Gabe Watson's U.S. trial set for May

By Melanie Posey

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - He spent 18 months in an Australian prison after pleading guilty to the charge of manslaughter for the death of his wife. Now Gabe Watson will stand trial in the U.S., but this time the charge is murder.

On Monday, Watson entered a not guilty plea during his arraignment at the Jefferson County Criminal Justice Center in Birmingham. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's office say Watson planned the death of his wife Tina while living in the States and then carried it out while they honeymooned in Australia in 2003.

Monday, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tommy Nail set a May 23 trial date for the case.

"This is just another step in the right direction to get justice for our daughter,"  Tommy Thomas, Tina's father, said after the proceeding. He, his wife and daughter were surrounded by family during Monday's proceeding, many of them wearing purple wrist bands and ribbons that bore Tina's pictures.  Cousins Kari Reed and Carol Rivas came from Texas from Monday's hearing.

"She doesn't have a voice of her own so we need to be her for her," Rivas said.  "I think once the evidence is heard, the right outcome will happen," Reed added.

Watson's U.S. trial will come almost two years after his Australian plea. It was former Attorney General Troy King who sought the original charge against Watson. His actions garnered national attention as many questioned the validity and necessity of the case. Many also wondered if Luther Strange would continue to pursue the case once he became A.G. earlier this year.

"I cannot speak for Attorney General Luther Strange," Valeska said Monday.  "He has directed me to move forward with this case and I'm doing what he said. He's been very helpful and very understanding and realizes the problems of a case half a world away."

Valeska says there is not much he can say about the trial, only that he and his Australian witnesses will be ready come May. Both Watson and his attorney Brett Bloomston declined to comment after the arraignment.