Gabe Watson, the Alabama man who returned to his home state to face murder charges after serving 18 months in an Australian prison for the drowning death of his new bride, saw the charge dismissed Thursday by a Birmingham judge.
Tommy Nail, a circuit judge in Birmingham, said it would be impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Watson, 34, drowned his wife by turning off her air supply during a honeymoon scuba diving excursion in Australia.
Watson has said the death was an accident, and, as the Associated Press noted, the sole eyewitness said it appeared as though Watson was trying to save his wife, Tina Thomas Watson, during the 2003 incident.
"The evidence is sorely lacking that it was an intentional act," said the judge, according to a report in the Birmingham News. "The only way to convict him of intentional murder is to speculate. Nobody knows exactly what happened in the water. I'm sure we'll never know."
In 2009, Watson pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case in Australia.
The family of the slain woman and Alabama's former attorney general, Troy King, were critical of the way the Australian case was handled, and pressed for Watson to be tried stateside. Australian officials agreed to extradite him only if Alabama officials promised not to seek the death penalty. Watson was facing the possibility of a life sentence without parole.
Instead, after a two-week trial, he's a free man.
On Facebook, notes of support were rolling in on a "Support Gabe Watson" page Thursday afternoon.
"Praise God! Wonderful news!" commenter Brandon Gossett wrote.
As of this afternoon, there had been no post-trial comments on the page titled "Justice for Tina Thomas."