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Irishwoman who featured on TV crime show pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter

Alison Gracey (54) who is originally from Northern Ireland, was arrested alongside her husband Christopher Jones (57) following the death of a diver in Florida ten years ago
The couple featured on America's Most Wanted'

The couple featured on America's Most Wanted'

Alison Gracey as she appeared on the TV show

Alison Gracey as she appeared on the TV show

Neil FetherstonhaughSunday World

An Irishwoman who featured on the America’s Most Wanted TV show has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter following the death of a diver in Florida ten years ago.

Alison Gracey (54) who is originally from Northern Ireland, was arrested alongside her husband Christopher Jones (57) in April by regional police in the northern Basque town of Muskiz, near Bilbao.

Their case had been profiled only days earlier on Fox channel’s revival of ‘America’s Most Wanted’ which told the story of how the couple had gone on the run after 36-year-old Aimee Rhoads died while on a diving expedition In 2011.

The couple were extradited to the US, where they pleaded guilty to “causing the death of another, without malice, during the commission of a… commercial dive charter”.

Jones and Gracey had been running a scuba diving club, Key Largo Scuba Shack, in Florida, and knew the charter boat Rhoads was travelling on had safety problems before it capsized on December 18, 2011.

There were five other passengers on board, when, according to federal prosecutors, the 25-foot boat, named Get Wet, "began taking on water and sank about 30 feet to the ocean floor.”

Aimee Rhoads drowned in the incident when a loose bench trapped her underwater.

In a press release, the Department of Justice said: “A criminal investigation following the death of the diver revealed that Jones and Gracey knew before the tragedy that the vessel needed repairs."

The DOJ stated: “Made of buoyant material, the bench sprang towards the ocean’s surface, as the vessel itself sank. The two large and heavy objects collided, pinning one passenger’s legs against the vessel’s windshield. [She] was trapped and drowned."

Juan Antonio Gonzalez, the US attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told the New York Times that Rhoads' case shows “no matter how long it takes, we will ensure criminals are made to answer for their crimes”.

Rhoads’s husband, Pat, who writes a blog, ‘Missing Aimee’, which is dedicated to his wife, posted an image of the pair in custody after Jones and Gracey were extradited.

He wrote: “Now that they’re here, they’ll finally face the federal charges stemming from Aimee’s death in December 2011.”

Last September, Gracey denied any wrongdoing when she appeared before the Spanish court, saying that she did not want to be handed over to US officials “because we don’t believe we are guilty. We believe we are innocent".

Alison Gracey as she appeared on the TV show

Alison Gracey as she appeared on the TV show

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“I was a partner with my husband and we had two other American partners in the business,” she said. “But me and my husband, we never worked in the business,” she told the Spanish court.

The couple was not in the US at the time of Rhoads’ death. They were arrested on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten in 2015, but they avoided extradition when they left the Dutch island.

According to the Fox TV programme, they were last seen in France in 2017.

The show featured a simulator estimating what the couple might look like today.

"She's blonde, but she may have changed her hair. He was born in Northern Ireland, so he has an Irish accent," said Yodit Tewolde, an expert jurist who appeared on the American television programme, as they showed Gracey's recreation in 3D.

She was described by Spanish media as wearing a “white T-shirt and jeans... as if (she) was an inhabitant of the Marbella coast" when she appeared before the National Court on Thursday where the extradition hearing was held.

Local media reported: "With a face quite far from the appearance (of) the woman who managed to flee the United States police for ten years."

The Spanish report added that Gracey “had been accused of involuntary homicide and documentary falsity”.

“Together with her husband they ran a boat rental company in Florida, where they made diving trips,” it adds. “On December 18 of that year, one of its boats, called Get Wet, sank. Two hikers were trapped in the cabin of the boat, barely nine meters long. One was saved. The other, Aimee Rhoads (36) died.

“Two years earlier, the American authorities had prohibited them from transporting more than six people on the boat, although they were allowed to continue with the business.

"They did so, although their workers also alerted them on several occasions that the boat flooded during the trips because the bilge pump failed and the deck plates were not safe."

“They were also accused of documentary falsification. American law prohibits a foreigner (none of the two were citizens of the United States) from owning a boat like the one they used in their business."

A representative for America’s Most Wanted was unable to confirm whether or not a tip came through the show’s tip line, as the investigation in Madrid is ongoing.

Based on the original series hosted by John Walsh, which ran on Fox from 1988-2011 and on Lifetime from 2011-2012, Fox’s America’s Most Wanted revival is hosted by Elizabeth Vargas and presents the cases of some of the country’s most dangerous fugitives.

In an interview with The Wrap last month, Vargas said the show employs phone banks of law enforcement officials to monitor tips received through the tip line and on social media.

“In the 10 years since America’s Most Wanted went off the air, there’s been an explosion in technology,” she said. “People now have an HD camera in their pocket in the form of their phone.

"And they can instantly take pictures and videos and text us and reach us on social media platforms. It’s just an unbelievable interconnectedness.”

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