Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Judge cautions lawyers in honeymoon death trial

The Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.  — A Jefferson County judge has instructed state prosecutors and attorneys for a Jefferson County man charged with killing his wife during a honeymoon trip to Australia to get along and act like adults as they prepare for trial Feb. 13.
Circuit Judge Tommy Nail made the comments during a hearing last week in Birmingham. Nail said he had received letters from attorneys on each side complaining about lawyers on the other side.
Nail also upheld an earlier ruling that jurors won't see a video of Gabe Watson removing items from the grave of his wife, Tina at a Birmingham area cemetery.
"I don't see any relevance of that," Nail said.
But the judge said he would wait until the trial starts to rule on whether jurors can see a prosecution video re-enacting the scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef where Tina Watson died. Defense attorneys have objected to jurors seeing the reenactment, saying it only speculates with the prosecution's theory of how Tina Watson died.
Nail said he would hold a hearing once the trial starts on whether jurors should see the reenactment.
Nail told attorneys he has reserved four weeks on his calendar for the trial, which will be held in a large courtroom in the basement of the Jefferson County Judicial Building. The giant courtroom is generally reserved for high profile cases that are expected to generate heavy media coverage.
Watson sat quietly next to defense attorneys during the hearing. He made no comment to reporters.
Defense attorneys complained that prosecutors have not allowed them to talk with a lead investigator in the case. Nail did not order prosecutors to make the investigator available, but said he expects prosecutors to comply with his order that both sides fully disclose all evidence they expect to present during the trial.
"I don't see what the reluctance is. This case has been investigated to death," Nice said.
Deputy Attorney General Don Valeska said prosecutors have shared all evidence with the defense. He said he does not consider the investigator a witness.
The judge said he expects to bring in 70 potential jurors from which attorneys will choose.
Tina and Gabe Watson met while both were students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She died while the couple was diving on a century-old shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef about 10 days after they were married.
Prosecutors claim Watson caused her death by cutting off her air supply while they were diving. Defense attorneys say the death was an accident.
Watson, who lives in the Birmingham area and is free on bond, is charged with capital murder, but prosecutors agreed they would not seek the death penalty in exchange for Australia extraditing Watson. In Australia, Watson pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge and served 18 months in prison.
Nail earlier refused a defense motion that he dismiss the charges based on double jeopardy because of the time Watson has already served in prison in Australia.
Prosecutors claim that Watson planned his wife's death while in Alabama so he could collect life insurance money.
Defense attorney Joseph Basgier said the 34-year-old Watson is ready to get the trial started.
"He's anxious. He's nervous. He's ready to get this trial behind him so he can be a free person," Basgier said.

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