TOWNSVILLE, Australia – A lawyer for a state coroner said Thursday an American tourist should be charged with murder in the drowning of his wife while scuba diving on their honeymoon in Australia.
Christina May Watson, known as Tina, drowned on Oct. 22, 2003, while on a dive with her husband on the Great Barrier Reef, just 11 days after they were married. Daniel Gabriel Watson, called Gabe, told police his wife had trouble while diving and panicked.
Queensland state coroner David Glasgow has been investigating the death for suspicious circumstances, and adjourned the hearing pending his formal findings, which are expected on Friday.
The lawyer assigned to assist Glasgow, John Tate, said that the explanation Gabe, an experienced diver, had given to police about how his novice diver wife had died conflicted with other evidence. Tate led witnesses through testimony during the inquest and submitted his legal opinion on the case to Glasgow on Thursday.
"The case given by Gabe Watson does not stack up against the evidence," Tate said.
"There are too many unanswered questions," he said. "It's for a jury to determine the answers to those questions."
In Australia, a coroner probes the circumstances of unusual deaths in court-like proceedings and can recommend further action by police or prosecutors if warranted.
Watson was not in Australia for the hearing. He has not been charged with any crime. He would have to be extradited from the United States to face any charges, a process that can be long and complicated.
Watson's lawyer at the hearing, Steve Zillman, said his client should not face charges and accused authorities of unfairly suspecting his client.
"The police have, at some point, decided Gabe Watson was guilty of murder and formed a case to support that hypothesis," Zillman said.
He said his client had no motive to kill his wife, adding that her father was named as the only beneficiary to her life insurance policy and that his client had passed up an opportunity to expand the policy a month before their wedding.
Murder charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison in Queensland.
Glasgow's inquest has run on and off for months in the tropical northern city of Townsville, near the reef that is the world's largest living organism and that is a mecca for divers and snorkelers from around the world.
The 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, 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 he 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.