Trial of Alleged 'Honeymoon Killer' Gabe Watson Opens

PHOTO: In this photo Tina Watsons body sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor while husband Gabe Watson surfaces. Gabe Watson and his then-fiancee, Tina, pose on their engagement, (inset).
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The trial of Gabe Watson, the so-called "honeymoon killer," began in a Birmingham, Ala., courtroom today eight years after his wife drowned while scuba diving off the coast of Australia.

In October 2003, Watson, then 26, and his bride Tina Watson, also 26, went to Australia on their honeymoon where they planned to go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef's historic Yongala dive site.

Eleven days into their honeymoon, Tina Watson drowned while diving with Watson.

What happened during the 15 minutes the newlyweds were under water remains in dispute.

Tough-talking Alabama prosecutor Don Valeska says Watson kidnapped his wife and then murdered her for insurance money.

Valeska is expected to argue that Watson had turned off his wife's air supply and held her until she was unconscious, and then turned the air back on. Watson claims his wife panicked, accidentally knocked his mask, and by the time he recovered she was out of his reach.

The trial opened with motions, including the prosecutor's request that the kidnapping charge be dropped, and the start of jury selection. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

A key element of the case is the motive, that Watson allegedly intended to collect insurance on the death of his new wife.

Instead, it was his wife's father, Tommy Thomas, an insurance agent, who collected her $33,000 life insurance policy.

Thomas claims his daughter came to him right before her marriage for advice. He claims Watson asked Tina to increase her life insurance to the max of $130,000 and make him the beneficiary instead of her father.

Thomas says he told his daughter to "deal with it later" and to tell Watson she had made the changes.

Watson's attorney, Brett Bloomston told ABC News, "There is no evidence that Gabe stood to benefit from his wife's death. In fact, he actually inherited debt."

Watson loves to scuba dive and was excited to share his passion with his new wife. In the summer of 2003, Tina Watson took a several hours long course for her diving certification in Pelham, Ala. The training began at a YMCA and moved to a quarry.

"There is evidence that Tina had a panic episode while getting certified in calm waters," Bloomston said.

Tina Watson's fatal honeymoon dive was her first in open water, and Australian dive experts say the Yongala site is a difficult and often dangerous dive.

But Watson, who was a certified rescue diver at the time, was Tina's "dive buddy," a scuba term meaning you are to look out for your partner's safety.

Watson told Australian police that during their dive Tina signaled to him that she wanted to surface. The current was strong and he believed she may have begun to panic. Watson says he told his wife to inflate her buoyancy vest, but when she hit the button, it did not inflate. His wife, who was wearing weight as divers often do, could not ascend.

Watson says he grabbed her hand to help, but says Tina Watson knocked his regulator out of his mouth as she struggled to swim. Watson says he had to let go of her to replace his regulator, but by the time he had it back on, his wife was sinking rapidly. Because the current was strong, Watson says he did not think he could reach his wife, so he ascended to the surface for help.

The dive group's leader retrieved Tina Watson from the ocean floor, but she was dead.

Another person on the dive told officials that he saw Watson holding his wife in a "bear hug."

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