'Honeymoon Killer' Freed: Gabe Watson Afraid of Alabama Homecoming

A man convicted in his wife's death in a scuba dive was released in Australia.

November 12, 2010, 2:44 AM

Nov. 12, 2010— -- An Alabama man known in Australia as the "Honeymoon Killer" was released Thursday after serving an 18-month sentence for the drowning death of his new wife during a scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef.

But Gabe Watson has yet to see an Alabama homecoming.

Watson is at the center of an international battle between Australia and Alabama. He remains in immigration custody until Australian authorities can confirm that he will not face the death penalty in Alabama.

"Australia does not deport people if there is a risk that they will be subject to capital punishment," Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said.

Alabama is a pro-death penalty state.

Australian police said Watson turned off wife Tina's air during a scuba diving trip on their 2003 honeymoon.

Underwater video captured her seemingly lifeless body on the bottom of the ocean.

Because of the complexity of the crime, it took Australian authorities nearly five years to charge Watson with murder in 2008.

"It's been devastating," his wife's mother, Cindy Thomas, said. "You never think your daughter will leave for her honeymoon and her husband will kill her."

At the time of the tragedy, Watson told authorities his wife panicked underwater and he couldn't save her.

But prosecutors said he was an experienced rescue diver with a motive for money; her life insurance policy.

Autopsy results found no pre-existing medical condition that could have explained the women's and tests indicated that there was nothing wrong with her diving gear.

Watson pleaded guilty last year to a reduced charge of manslaughter and served his 18-month sentence in Australia.

Alabama Homecoming?

Watson's Australian attorney, Adrian Braithwaite, said he was working to get him released for now.

"It's certainly my intention to pursue a temporary visa while this is sorted out so he can remain in the community rather than be incarcerated," Braithwaite said.

Australia has asked for a letter from the U.S. State Department guaranteeing that Watson will not be subjected to the possibility of a death sentence in here, according to the Alabama Attorney General's Office.

Watson's attorneys said state prosecutors have agreed not to seek the death penalty but, Alabama's attorney general says Watson could be tried again in the United States because the office believes he planned to kill her before leaving the states for the honeymoon.

A Birmingham grand jury met last month to decide whether to indict Watson but a decision has yet to be announced.

Attorney Braithwaite said Watson wants to return to the United States, according to the Associated Press, but "he doesn't want to go back if there's a risk that there's a needle stuck up his arm."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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