Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producers: Phil Goyen, Hannah Boocock
From the start, he was branded the "Honeymoon Killer".
The police were convinced Gabe Watson murdered his wife Tina while diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and the media and public agreed.
The view was, how could a newly-married man abandon his drowning wife? It just didn't make sense.
It has taken almost nine years for this quietly-spoken businessman to finally clear his name.
But, even now, the suspicions linger.
In his only Australian interview, Gabe Watson tells what really happened that day on the Barrier Reef.
Update: The Queensland Police Service provided this response to Gabe Watson's interview.
The QPS conducted a thorough investigation into this matter during which all aspects of the evidence were carefully considered.
Following an inquest, Coroner David Glasgow charged David Gabriel Watson with murder and committed him to stand trial.
Mr Watson returned to Australia voluntarily to appear in court and subsequently pleaded guilty to manslaughter, resulting in a conviction and custodial sentence.
There is no correlation between the case put before the Queensland judicial system and the matter heard in Alabama. The prosecution in Alabama was entirely a matter for US authorities.
Any decisions in relation to criminal charges are made based on the evidence available.
It is not unusual for people either convicted or acquitted of an offence to be critical of police.”
LIZ HAYES: It was the diving trip that would change two lives forever. Gabe Watson and his new bride, Tina, could never have imagined their Great Barrier Reef honeymoon would end with Gabe being accused of murder. Who have thought? You head out on a honeymoon and it turns so tragic?
GABE: Yeah, I felt like for so long that I’d wake up one day and that was just the worst dream ever.
LIZ HAYES: Tina Watson died within seven minutes of entering the water. From that day, in October 2003, her husband Gabe Watson has been called the “Honeymoon Killer”. How did you feel about that allegation?
GABE: Oh – shocked, pissed, hurt and I just it was hard to believe.
LIZ HAYES: You did not murder Tina?
LIZ HAYES: You did not intend to cause her harm?
GABE: No, I did not.
LIZ HAYES: This story began back when Gabe and Tina Watson married in Birmingham, Alabama.
GABE: It’s emotional in a good way, is not a sad time at all.
LIZ HAYES: It was a day they’d both been looking forward to so much.
GABE: She was a blast to be around – you know, just tonnes of fun.
LIZ HAYES: And you decided to marry. Was that an easy decision?
GABE: Yeah – it was a no-brainer, yeah.
LIZ HAYES: And so too, was a diving honeymoon on Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. They’d learnt to dive here in the still waters of the local Birmingham quarry. Gabe was the more experienced, having completed 55 dives. Tina however, had done only 11, but both were excited about their trip. What were you expecting?
GABE: I just thought it was going to be kind of like swimming around in blue water, where you just kind of float along.
LIZ HAYES: So you weren’t concerned that Tina was a novice and potentially not able to dive on that site?
GABE: No, my thoughts on that were you know, it’s a dive company – if they don’t think we’re prepared or qualified for it they’ll let us know.
LIZ HAYES: Because the police view that this is all part of a plot.
GABE: Right, right.
LIZ HAYES: That you have intentionally gone out in search of an opportunity to murder your wife.
LIZ HAYES: Their first dive was on the reef was at the wreck of the SS Yongala – a site considered hazardous and unpredictable. Divers descend an anchor rope and float across the Yongala until reaching another rope guiding them back to the surface. But within minutes of entering the water Tina and Gabe were in trouble.
GABE: It was you know just this kind of sensation of this, you know, “we were not ready for this.” This – the first dive of the trip, the first dive in however long and we’re in the open ocean and we’re out of our comfort zone.
LIZ HAYES: You’re out of control?
LIZ HAYES: Can you see that Tina is uncomfortable?
GABE: Yeah. I knew I was uncomfortable and I turned to her and she turned to me she motions “lets get back” so I kind of put two and two together she’s not feeling comfortable just like me she wants to go back, go up the anchor rope and sit this dive out.
LIZ HAYES: Gabe says they try to swim back against the current, but can’t.
GABE: I’m really starting to get worried now because for some reason she can’t go up or she’s not sure what to do. I can kind of see you know to me that the panic is setting in with her.
LIZ HAYES: So you’ve decided you’re going to tow her back.
GABE: Yeah. I probably wasn’t thinking rationally but at the time to me it was it seemed the thing to do to grab her and I’m just going to swim for the both of us.
LIZ HAYES: How are you feeling at this point?
GABE: Oh, scared.
LIZ HAYES: Obviously something goes horribly wrong, what is it?
GABE: I feel this whack across the side of my face and my mask gets turned. It doesn’t come off but you know it gets shifted to the side of my head, so I had to let go of her.
LIZ HAYES: By the time Gabe recovers, Tina is gone.
GABE: I turned back around to look and see where Tina was and she was down probably 10 feet or so…
LIZ HAYES: And what was she doing?
GABE: She was sinking. She was sinking, just she was sinking, sinking away.
LIZ HAYES: Too far for you to grab her?
GABE: She was, she was, yeah – she was well out of arms reach.
LIZ HAYES: What Gabe did next will haunt him for the rest of his life. He decides to leave Tina and find someone who can help. Did you make a decision that “it’s either she or me”?
GABE: No. I made a decision that if I stay with her, if I try to continue to do something that I’m probably going to make the situation worse.
LIZ HAYES: Surely you knew though if you felt you could die at that moment, Tina certainly felt that.
GABE: Well, right but she had her regulator in and she still had her mask on and she’s got plenty of air still.
LIZ HAYES: Even judges who sided with you view you as a man who lacked character at that moment, who wilted under pressure, who was basically a coward.
GABE: Yeah, I’ve heard them say that.
LIZ HAYES: Are you?
LIZ HAYES: You’re not a coward?
LIZ HAYES: Did you wilt under pressure?
GABE: I think I did what a diver does when they get panicked and they’re trying to help somebody and they realise that they can’t help.
LIZ HAYES: Because this is the problem most people have – they cannot come to terms with a husband who turns his back on his wife of 11 days.
LIZ HAYES: That’s a real sticking point.
GABE: Right it is, except I still had the capability at that point to go find help so I could have sat there and watched the situation get worse and worse and worse, or I could come to the realisation that “I can’t help so I’m no good to her other than to go get help.”
LIZ HAYES: As Gabe headed to the surface, Tina’s last moments were captured in this picture – sinking face up, her arms outstretched. Unconscious, she was brought to the surface by the group’s dive master and taken to a second boat.
GABE: I could see them doing CPR on her and I lost it and I just left – I just couldn’t bear to see them working on her like that. I couldn’t…I couldn’t do it.
LIZ HAYES: Did you know that she had died at that point?
GABE: No, no.
LIZ HAYES: When did you find that out?
GABE: Dr John Downey walked in and he said, “I don’t have good news, she didn’t make it” and I just collapsed onto him.
LIZ HAYES: There’s no doubt that’s a dreadful moment?
GABE: Yeah, that’s probably the worst moment ever. I don’t think it’s something you ever can get out of your mind.
LIZ HAYES: But Townsville policemen Gary Campbell and Kevin Gehringer didn’t believe him. They think Gabe murdered his wife. And they demonstrated their theory of how in this re-enactment. They claim that Gabe embraces his wife and while doing so turns off her air supply – and then turns it back on before abandoning her.
It was all sparked by an eyewitness account by fellow diver, Dr Stanley Stutz. It is believed by police that whilst you were embracing, holding, somehow having contact with Tina down there, you turned her air supply off.
LIZ HAYES: Did you?
LIZ HAYES: You did no such thing?
GABE: No, I did not do any such thing.
LIZ HAYES: According to police, the motive was money. Gabe Watson they claimed, had planned his wife’s death to secure her life insurance worth about $160,000. It was a theory Tina’s father, Tommy, also believed.
TOMMY: She said Gabe is wanting me to increase my group life insurance up to the maximum and change the beneficiary to him. I said just tell him thank you took care of it. And we'll take care of it when you get back.
GABE: It’s pretty devastating for somebody to say you murdered your wife and you did it for money on your honeymoon.
LIZ HAYES: What money did you get as a result of Tina’s death?
GABE: None. Debt.
LIZ HAYES: In the court of public opinion, one of the most damning aspects of this case was Gabe Watson’s behaviour after his wife’s death. There were claims that he was far from the grieving husband – with inappropriate comments and actions. One of the most bizarre was here at Tina’s grave, where police filmed him throwing away flowers left by Tina’s family. What was motivating you?
GABE: I was still reeling from Tina’s death and the Thomas’ and various other people were accusing me of murder. It was just a dumb bonehead thing that I did and it’s not something that I’m proud of.
LIZ HAYES: Two years after Tina’s death, a coroner determines Gabe Watson has a case to answer. He was charged with murder. But Queensland prosecutors accept that there is not enough evidence to proceed. Instead, Gabe pleaded guilty to manslaughter – for breaching a duty of care by leaving Tina his dive buddy. He spent 18 months in a Brisbane prison. Why did you do that? It’s an incredibly generous thing for an innocent man to do. Why didn’t you fight that?
GABE: To fight the whole thing, I could have been held on remand for two, three, four, five years. The amount of money that it would have cost for a trial and the fact that the breach of duty of care – there was there was no way I could have been found not guilty.
LIZ HAYES: What should have been the end of a tragic nightmare wasn’t. As soon as he was released from prison, police in Alabama charged Gabe with murder. And this would be the first time police evidence would be tested. And within days, it crumbled.
Dr Stanley Stutz, upon whose eyewitness account police had placed so much of their murder theory, did not believe he had seen anything sinister.
STANLEY: At the time I thought he was trying to save her.
LIZ HAYES: And Judge Tommy Nail did not believe the prosecution had any credible evidence. In a spectacular dismissal, he threw the case out. What the court didn’t hear was one vital piece of evidence that experts say proves Gabe Watson’s innocence beyond any doubt. It all centres on Tina’s air tank. And the police contention that Gabe turned off his wife’s air supply just doesn’t stack up. Quite simply, Tina consumed way too much air during time she was underwater for it to have been shut down.
CARL: They don’t have the time to do it. They’ve just go to somehow or another explain that air consumption. You can’t consume that much air if you have your air tank turned off. You just can’t do that.
LIZ HAYES: Dr Carl Edmonds is one of the world’s leading medical experts in diving deaths.
CARL: This tells us the times at which things are happening and depths at which things are happening. He’s examined all the data from Tina and Gabe’s dive computers.
LIZ HAYES: It’s absolutely clear, based on all the information the data you have, that Gabe Watson did not murder his wife?
CARL: Of course not, he tried to rescue her. He did his best and he failed in the rescue. This is a common tragedy. It’s terrible but it’s so common. We’re not looking at anything exceptional in this case. There’s not one unusual aspect to this case, not one.
LIZ HAYES: Has it been difficult to become the normal suburban man again?
GABE: It’s actually kind of good to be boring again.
LIZ HAYES: After nine long years, Gabe Watson is finally a free man. Why aren’t you so angry? I’m yet to see this man strike out. I mean if that was me, I’d be so angry.
GABE: I’m just laid back. It would take a lot for someone I guess to get me angry like that but at the same time…
LIZ HAYES: You mean going to gaol, losing your wife, being accused of murder – is not enough to get you angry?
GABE: Angry on the inside but not lash out, because it’s not how I want to live the rest of my life.
LIZ HAYES: That life includes a new wife, Kim, whom he married four years ago. How do you feel about what Gabe’s been through?
KIM: I know it’s been very hard for him but I think he’s shown his character by just taking the high road and not letting it stopping him from moving on, not letting it stopping him from having a life.
LIZ HAYES: You never doubted Gabe?
KIM: No, not once.
GABE: I’ll never stop loving Tina, but at the same time I’m in love with Kim and we’re living the rest of our life as husband and wife.
LIZ HAYES: Do you regret that forever you may be known as the “Honeymoon Killer”?
GABE: I mean how can you be deemed a killer when the courts have ruled that you didn’t kill? I could be the honeymoon negligent diver, but not the honeymoon killer.
LIZ HAYES: Remarkably, after pursuing Gabe Watson for nine years, Australian police were unavailable for an interview. They did provide us with a written statement which you can read in full on our website.