Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of geography will quickly realize that Queensland is not in Alabama at all. Queensland is in Australia and Alabama is, well, somewhere down south where we like to pretend doesn’t exist.
But the two have come together in this mind-boggling and ultimately bordering on illegal vendetta prosecution of Gabe Watson for the murder of his wife Tina, in 2003.
And while the rest of the world is busy getting up in arms about Julian Assange and Sweden and Britain and bail and the US and possible prosecutions [that’s SEO, n00bs], it falls upon me to bring you this sorry tale of overreaching and choice of law.
Back in ’03, Gabe and Tina, newlyweds, went to Queensland for its great barrier reef and it’s picturesque setting for a honeymoon. As most people not named Gideon are wont to do, they went scuba diving and that’s where tragedy struck. Tina drowned and died. Gabe returned to Alabama where he lived for 5 years until an Australian court indicted him for the murder of Tina Watson. He voluntarily returned to Queensland and through the good work of his lawyers was able to secure a plea bargain wherein he pled guilty to manslaughter, for “failing to perform his duties as dive buddy” that resulted in Tina’s death. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison, which was later increased to 18 months by Australian “authorities”:
After objections from Tina Watson’s family and Alabama Attorney General Troy King that the sentence was too lenient, Australian Attorney General Cameron Dick increased Watson’s time by six months.
What does this have to do with Alabama? Well, that’s where he’s from and that’s where Tina was from, so a few months ago, AL prosecutors indicted the proverbial ham sandwich: two counts of capital felony. Australia, bless their reformed souls, agreed to deport Watson only if AL agreed to take the death penalty off the table.
So, you’re probably wondering, how in [insert deity of choice]’s name does Alabama have jurisdiction? The crime, whatever it may be, occurred almost 10,000 miles away, on the other side of the planet. AL prosecutors’ assertion is that he killed Tina for insurance money, a plot that was hatched in AL before going to Queensland where he completed it.
The problem with that theory is this:
The motive was not enough, the judge said [at arraignment in AL], if it was based on Watson asking his wife to increase a work-based life insurance policy that had been not changed, and later dropping a lawsuit related to his travel insurance claim.
Oh, and there’s this:
Tina Watson’s father actually was the beneficiary on his daughter’s policy.
Either Gabe Watson is the stupidest criminal in the history of the world, or Al prosecutors are. My money’s on the latter. So this is a capital felony prosecution based on the almost-invisible thread of motive alone (which, as prosecutors love to remind us and juries, they’re not required to prove since it isn’t an element of any damn crime), a motive which isn’t even possible because there would be no actual benefit to Watson.
Sure, technically Alabama can indict Watson: double jeopardy doesn’t apply to different jurisdictions (see e.g. Abbate v. US). But this reeks of nothing more than political grandstanding and making a public statement about something. I’m not entirely sure what this statement says, other than AL prosecutors are stupid. Or maybe it’s this:
Gabe Watson’s father, Dave Watson, issued a statement Thursday, saying King promised to charge his son with murder even before he had seen the evidence. “I think he did so in exchange for the support of the Thomas family during his campaign for re-election, which he had,” Dave Watson said. “He has now made good on that promise. Tina’s death seven years ago was a terrible accident and nothing more.”
Either way, there’s a foul stench coming from Birmingham, Alabama. Of course, Alabama will have to convince a judge that there is some basis for jurisdiction. And judging by the judge’s comments at arraignment, he’s not buying it:
Alabama judge Tommy Nail, who is expected to preside at the trial, made some pointed comments challenging the strength of prosecution evidence against Watson.
Judge Nail said he had “serious doubts” Watson had planned the crime in Alabama, as prosecutor Don Valeska claimed, if the case was based mainly on two insurance claims.
Earlier, the judge remarked on an Alabama grand jury’s decision to indict Watson for murder, saying he knew, as a past prosecutor, that “you can indict a ham sandwich if you want to”.
Judge Nail became involved in a series of testy exchanges with Mr Valeska, demanding what evidence existed for a crime planned in Alabama and later carried out in Australia.
For now, Gabe Watson is that ham sandwich. But only just.
[For comprehensive coverage of this case, click here.]