Coroner: Man should face trial in dive death

SYDNEY, Australia The finding will set in motion an arrest warrant and proceedings to extradite Daniel Gabriel Watson of Birmingham, Ala., to Australia to be put on trial. He could face life in prison if convicted of murder.

Watson's lawyer has denied the allegations, saying he believes police in Australia have been intent on blaming his client for the death regardless of the evidence.

After a monthslong inquest, Queensland state coroner David Glasgow ruled Friday there was enough evidence to justify charging Watson with the murder of his 26-year-old wife, Christina May Watson, on Oct. 22, 2003.

Christina Watson, known as Tina, was a novice diver who drowned while on a dive with Watson and others near the northeastern city of Townsville on the Great Barrier Reef, just 11 days after the couple were married.

Glasgow's inquest heard that an autopsy found there was no obvious medical cause for Tina Watson's death, and that her dive equipment was not found to be faulty.

In videotaped statements to police, Gabe Watson, who was certified as a rescue diver, said his wife apparently struck trouble and panicked, possibly blacking out during the group dive at a shipwreck off Townsville.

He described watching his wife sink, with her arms outstretched toward him.

But Gabe Watson changed details in his story to police several times, including suggesting that she was caught in a strong current, the inquest heard. Police were also suspicious because he left his wife to raise the alarm, and took an unusually long time to reach the surface.

A leader of the dive spotted Tina Watson on the sea floor a few minutes after the couple entered the water, and swam down to pull her to a supporting boat. She was unconscious and two doctors aboard the boat were unable to revive her.

Gabe Watson was not in Australia during the inquest. He was not compelled to give direct evidence, though his statements to Australian police in the days after Tina Watson's death were key evidence in the inquest.

Gabe Watson's Australian lawyer, Steve Zillman, argued during the inquest that the evidence did not support a criminal charge against his client, and accused police of being determined to blame Watson for the death whatever the evidence.

Gabe Watson's response to the coroner's finding was not immediately available.

Tina Watson's parents Tommy and Cindy Thomas and other family members watched Glasgow read out his findings in court via a live videolink to Alabama.

Police Detective Inspector Warren Webber said a warrant would be issued in Queensland state for Watson's arrest, the first step in what could be long and drawn out proceedings to bring him to Australia to face trial.

"There are lengthy legal procedures that are involved but obviously we are keen they will be done as quickly as possible," Webber told reporters.

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