New book about 'Honeymoon killer' case raises questions about the achievability of justice

19 February 2013

Achieving justice in complex cases in Australia and internationally, such as Queensland's 'Honeymoon Killer' case, is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult, researchers at Deakin and Monash Universities argue in a new book to be launched by Mr David Galbally QC next Tuesday, February 26.

The book, A Second Chance for Justice: The Prosecutions of Gabe Watson for the death of Tina Thomas, written by Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon from Deakin University and Dr Asher Flynn from Monash University investigates the contentious legal handling of the two prosecutions of Gabe Watson for the death of his wife of 11 days, Tina Thomas, while honeymooning on the Barrier Reef in October 2003.

In 2009, Mr Watson was sentenced to 18 months in prison in Queensland after pleading guilty to manslaughter by criminal negligence. He was later charged with capital murder in Alabama (US) but was controversially acquitted of this charge in February 2012. The case attracted public, media and social media scrutiny.

“The book is important because it highlights the increasing difficulty of obtaining justice in the Australian and American justice systems,” Dr Fitz-Gibbon said.

“Throughout the nine year handling of the case a number of contentious legal decisions were made which arguably influenced whether justice could ever be achieved.

“For instance why did the Queensland prosecution decide to withdraw the murder charge and accept a guilty plea to manslaughter and what motivated the Alabama Attorney General decision to prosecute Watson ‘again’ in Alabama particularly when the subsequent prosecution was limited again by a lack of financial resources needed to bring witnesses and evidence to the United States for the capital murder trial.

“A decision which culminated in the final judicial decision to acquit Watson of the capital murder charge due to lack of evidence.”

Dr Fitz-Gibbon said while this was a single case it provided salutory lessons for other countries about the impact lack of funding can have on, but also the increasing price attached to obtaining justice.

“The case raises important questions about the difficulty of truly knowing what is justice and who gets justice?

“We address these questions from the perspectives of the two families and the key legal people involved.”

Dr Fitz-Gibbon explained that the researchers were able to draw on extensive interviews with those intimately involved in the case, including members of the police, prosecution, defence counsel, and the victim and accused's families, as well as court observations of the capital murder trial in Alabama and the magnitude of legal documents compiled in both jurisdictions throughout the near year duration of the case.

Further information

A Second Chance for Justice – The Prosecutions of Gabe Watson for the Death of Tina Thomas (Cambridge Scholars Publishing) will be launched by Mr David Galbally QC at the Victoria County Court on Tuesday 26 February from 5.30 – 7.30pm.

The primary police investigator involved in the case, Detective Senior Constable Kevin Gehringer of the Townsville Criminal Investigation Bureau will also provide a reflection on the case.

Additional information about the issues in the case

News facts
  • New book looks at the Honeymoon Killer case
  • Case highlights difficulty of achieving justice in Australia and the United States
  • Contentious legal decisions influenced whether justice could ever be achieved.

Media contact

Sandra Kingston
Deakin Media Relations
03 9246 8221/ 0422 005 485

Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon
03 5227 2688

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19th February 2013