BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – A witness in the trial of an Alabama man charged with murdering his bride on a honeymoon scuba outing in Australia testified Tuesday that a diving firm violated its own rules in preparing the woman for the trip.
The man who was the dive master on the trip in 2003, Wade Singleton, said 26-year-old Tina Watson didn't get a private briefing or an orientation dive before going into the water with her husband, Gabe Watson, despite policies that require both.
The 34-year-old Watson is on trial on a charge of murdering the woman by drowning her during the honeymoon dive. The defense contends her death was an accident.
Watson served 18 months in prison in Australia after pleading guilty to a manslaughter charge in his wife's death, but that charge involved negligence, not an intentional killing like the Alabama charge.
Trying to bolster suggestions that the company that operated the diving boat was at least partly to blame, defense lawyer Brett Bloomston got Singleton to acknowledge that he and other crew members didn't ask a number of questions of the woman, a novice with only 11 previous dives.
While company rules based on government regulations required workers to make in-depth, individual assessments of divers' skills, employees on the Spoilsport didn't perform all the checks on Tina Watson or other divers, Singleton said.
"Were you not aware that she had never been in the ocean in an open water dive?" Bloomston asked.
"No, I was not," replied Singleton, who has since left the diving business and now works as a paramedic.
Singleton said Gabe Watson was considered an experienced diver because he had 55 previous dives, including more than a dozen in the ocean, and both he and his wife declined an orientation dive on the Great Barrier Reef site with an expert.
"You can't make them take the dive if they don't want to take the dive?" asked prosecutor Tina Hammonds.
"No, I can't," he said.
The woman drowned while diving on a shipwreck off the coast. Prosecutors contend her husband turned off her air intentionally.
Tina Watson's father, Tommy Thomas, left the courtroom in tears as an Australian medical examiner showed jurors autopsy photos.
The doctor, David John Williams, said an examination determined the woman drowned, and he ruled out other factors including a heart problem that she'd had several years earlier.