Sailor Whose Wife Vanished at Sea During Honeymoon Gets 8 Years in Prison
A 42-year-old man who pleaded guilty in the death of his wife during their honeymoon at sea was sentenced to eight years in federal prison, PEOPLE confirms.
Lewis Bennett, a dual citizen of Australia and the United Kingdom, was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno after previously pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of his 41-year-old wife, Isabella Hellman.
He was initially charged with second-degree murder in the case, but that charge was dropped, and Bennett ended up pleading to the lesser charge.
Hellman died in May 2017, while the husband and wife — who was a resident of Florida — were aboard his catamaran, known as “Surf Into Summer.”
Hellman’s body has never been recovered.
According to court records, Bennett and Hellman set sail from St. Maarten in late April 2017, headed for the United States.
On May 14, 2017, the couple departed Cuba on Bennett’s catamaran, en route to Florida.
That evening, Bennett, an experienced sailor, had Hellman take control of the vessel, but did not have his wife wear a life jacket, harness, or personal locator beacon.
Bennett told investigators that in the early morning hours of May 15, 2017, he was awakened by a loud noise and discovered the sails were loose — and his wife was nowhere to be found.
“Bennett could not recall whether he called out for his wife,” reads a statement from federal prosecutors. “He did not deploy flares to illuminate the area in order to look for Ms. Hellman or to signal his position in the open water for safety and/or recovery. Additionally, Bennett did not search for Ms. Hellman with either the catamaran or the attached dinghy.”
Bennett ultimately abandoned the inoperable ship and boarded a life raft. Prosecutors alleged evidence indicates the catamaran was intentionally scuttled.
A U.S. Coast Guard received an emergency alert and eventually rescued Bennett, but found no trace of Hellman.
According to court documents filed last fall, federal prosecutors believe the couple was struggling financially and constantly arguing. Investigators alleged that Bennett staged an accident with the boat, damaging it from the inside, causing it to take on water.
Before he was charged with second-degree murder, he purchased one-way tickets to the U.K. for himself and the couple’s infant daughter.
He also attempted to have Hellman declared legally dead seven months after he was rescued, according to the documents. In Florida, a determination is typically made when someone has been missing for five years.
Bennett was initially scheduled to stand trial late last year for the second-degree murder charge after pleading guilty earlier in the year to transporting $36,000 in stolen coins, which police recovered both from the life raft and Hellman’s residence.
The court documents, which were previously obtained by PEOPLE, presented the possibility that Hellman had found the stolen coins before she died, which “could have potentially led to an intense argument resulting in Hellman’s murder.”
“Ms. Hellman’s death occurred as a result of Bennett’s knowledge of circumstances that existed that could have reasonably enabled him to foresee the threat to life to which his acts or failures to act might subject another, namely Ms. Hellman; and his gross negligence, amounting to wanton and reckless disregard for human life, in acting or failing to act as a result of that,” the statement from prosecutors reads.
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The statement details a series of actions Bennett failed to take in order to search for and possibly aid his spouse.
After completing his prison sentence, Bennett will serve three years on supervised release.
He was also ordered Tuesday to pay $22,910 in restitution — the amount of money seized by the FBI from his backpack when he was arrested.
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