American jailed in wife's Australia vacation death

BRISBANE, Australia – An American man pleaded guilty and was sentenced Friday for the manslaughter of his wife, who drowned during their honeymoon scuba diving trip in Australia. Her body was found on the ocean floor.

David Gabriel Watson will serve just one year of the four-and-a-half-year sentence in the death of his wife of 11 days, Christina Mae Watson, in 2003 as the couple dove off the tropical coast of Queensland. The suspended sentence is not unusual in such crimes in Queensland.

Watson, of Birmingham, Alabama, had been due to stand trial in the Queensland Supreme Court for murder, which carried a potential sentence of life in prison, until the prosecution accepted the guilty plea to the lesser charge.

Prosecutor Brendan Campbell told the court that the manslaughter plea was accepted on the basis that the 32-year-old Watson — trained to rescue panicked divers — failed in his duty as her dive buddy by not giving her emergency oxygen.

Campbell said Watson allowed his wife to sink to the ocean floor without attempting to retrieve her, and he did not inflate her buoyancy vest or remove weights from her belt.

"He virtually extinguished any chance of her survival," Campbell said.

Watson married Christina in a ceremony described by her friends as her dream wedding in Birmingham on Oct. 11, 2003.

Eleven days later, a dive instructor found her lying on the bottom of the ocean during a weeklong Great Barrier Reef scuba diving trip off the coast of Townsville city. Watson told police her death was an accident.

Coroner David Glasgow formally charged Watson with murder last June. Glasgow said it was likely Watson killed his wife by holding her underwater and turning off her air supply. The coroner said a possible motive was her modest life insurance policy.

Watson arrived in the northeastern city of Brisbane of his own volition last month to answer the murder charge.

Watson, an experienced diver who has since remarried, had said in videotaped police interviews that the 26-year-old Christina, a novice diver, started having trouble a few minutes into their dive.

He said he decided to go for help rather than attempt a rescue himself. One of the dive leaders pulled the woman to the surface, but efforts to resuscitate her failed.

A fellow diver told Glasgow's inquest last year that he saw Watson engaged in an underwater "bear hug" with his petite wife, after which he headed to the surface while she sank to the ocean floor.

Watson told police his wife knocked his mask off and then sank too quickly for him to retrieve her. But the prosecution rejected his explanation, saying it would not have been possible for her to sink rapidly.

People look at the moon at the Temple of Hercules at the Citadel in Amman. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed