Australia 'honeymoon killer' free but fears US penalty

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Image caption,
Gabe Watson was an experienced diver

An American man known as the honeymoon killer has been released from an Australian jail.

Gabe Watson was jailed for the manslaughter of his wife while scuba diving during their honeymoon on the Great Barrier Reef.

The bubblewrap salesman is now in the custody of immigration officers.

The Australian government is awaiting a guarantee from US authorities that he will not face the death penalty if he is retried at home in Alabama.

Watson was escorted from prison west of Brisbane by immigration officials and is being transferred to a detention centre.

He will be held until Australian officials are satisfied that he will not face execution in the United States.

In Alabama, prosecutors want to charge Mr Watson with murder, arguing they have jurisdiction because they allege he began plotting his crime there.

Life assurance

They have said they will not seek the death penalty should the former salesman be convicted.

However, Australia's Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, wants a similar guarantee from federal authorities in the US.

Image caption,
An instructor races to Tina Watson, seen lying on the sea floor

"Certainly our embassy in Washington is prosecuting the case on behalf of Australia, seeking an assurance that the death penalty would not apply to Mr Watson should he be returned to the United States," Mr Bowen said.

"Of course, as you know, Alabama has already given that assurance to the Queensland government.

"The legal advice we have received is that as a national government we need to have a similar assurance from the national government of the United States before we were able to return Mr Watson to the United States," he said.

After his wife's death seven years ago, Gabe Watson was initially charged with murder in Queensland.

It was alleged he turned off his new bride's air supply during a diving trip and held her underwater.

He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter last year and has served 18 months in prison.

A coroner said a possible motive for the killing was Tina Watson's modest life insurance policy.

Mr Watson's lawyer said his client was confident of successfully defending any charges that might be laid against him in Alabama.

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