If found guilty Alison Gracey (54) could face eight years in prison
A Northern Irish woman accused of involvement in the dive boat death of a young mother has appeared in court in the United States.
Alison Gracey (54) was extradited from Spain to the US just over two weeks ago to face charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the December 2011 death in Florida of mother-of-one Aimee Rhoads.
Ms Gracey, who has requested a speedy trial, pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The trial is listed to start on June 6.
The accused and husband Christopher Jones were on the run for the large part of the last decade following the sinking of the dive boat ‘Get Wet’.
Gracey, who first appeared before the federal court in the Southern District of Florida on January 13, is also charged with lying about her alleged ownership of the dive boat.
Jones made his first appearance before the same court on Friday, charged with the same offences and others.
Federal prosecutors claim the pair managed the charter boat in an “unlawful and careless manner”.
The Northern Irishwoman, arrested in Spain last April just days after she and Jones were featured on network television programme America’s Most Wanted, is being held on a $250,000 bond, to be paid in full in cash or secured against assets and with a rider she has to prove they are not proceeds from alleged criminal activity.
Jones is additionally charged under maritime manslaughter statutes. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years while Gracey could spend up to eight years in a federal prison.
Ms Rhoads, 36, the mother of a then three-year-old girl, died after the charter dive boat sank off the Florida Keys.
She left her husband and daughter in their hotel room for the scuba dive off Key Largo. But the trip turned to disaster within minutes as the boat began to take on water, according to media reports. Rhoads and others on the boat were trapped in a cabin.
Another diver was critically injured but survived while four other tourists, along with the captain and a crew member, escaped without injury.
Gracey and Jones were not in the US at the time, but were picked up on the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten in the Caribbean in 2015.
They were arrested on foot of a US extradition warrant but released ahead of a court hearing and then disappeared despite having their original UK passports confiscated.
The pair were arrested in the Basque region of Spain in April just days after the case featured on America’s Most Wanted.
Pat Rhoads, Aimee’s husband, told the Sunday Life on Friday: “My only thoughts are that I am cautiously optimistic that they will finally face justice.”
But he added, “If Ms Gracey felt she was innocent, why run for so long? Why flee the country on bail in St Maarten?”
Mr Rhoads said he wants to be in court if it goes to trial, or for the sentencing if they decide to plead guilty.
At a court appearance in Spain in September, Gracey denied any wrongdoing, adding she did not want to be handed over to US officials “because we don’t believe we are guilty. We believe we are innocent”.
She added: “I was a partner with my husband and we had two other American partners in the business. But me and my husband, we never worked in the business.”