A British man has been jailed for eight years in the US over the death of his wife during their honeymoon on a yacht in the Caribbean.
Lewis Bennett, 42, from Poole in Dorset, was originally charged with murder, after prosecutors claimed he sank the boat intentionally to kill Isabella Hellman and inherit her Florida estate. The charge “was downgraded to involuntary manslaughter in a plea deal”, reports Sky News.
During a hearing in Miami this week, Bennett apologised to Colombian-born Hellman's family and asked the judge for a shorter sentence so he could raise the couple's two-year-old daughter. The child is currently being looked after by his parents in Scotland.
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“If you may permit me to be with my daughter as soon as possible, I want to bring her up in a manner that is respectful to my wife's wishes,” Bennett said. But the judge dismissed the plea, delivering the maximum sentence available.
Bennett must also pay $22,910 (£18,100) in restitution and will spend three years on supervised release after serving his sentence, a spokeswoman for the US Justice Department said.
What happened to Isabella Hellman?
The couple were returning to their home in Delray Beach, Florida, after a month-long cruise in the Caribbean when their 37ft catamaran sank.
Amateur sailor Bennett - a mining engineer with dual British-Australian citizenship - says he awoke on the night of 15 May 2017 to the sound of a loud bang, and discovered that the catamaran was badly damaged and taking on water.
According to court documents, he told investigators he did not remember calling to his 41-year-old wife as he prepared to abandon ship and “did not deploy flares to illuminate the area in order to look for Hellmann or to signal his position in the open water”.
It was not until 45 minutes later, when Bennett had escaped his yacht and was aboard a life raft, that he made a distress call and reported his wife missing. Her body has never been found.
What happened to Bennett?
Bennett was recovered from the life raft along with £30,000 worth of rare coins “stolen from a yacht he had worked aboard in 2016”, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). He was already serving a seven-month sentence for smuggling when he was charged in February with his wife’s death.
Prosecutors had alleged he murdered Hellmann and deliberately sunk the catamaran to end his “marital strife” and inherit her home and wealth.
“Expert testimony found the vessel had been deliberately sunk by allowing water into the hull,” says HuffPost.
Text messages indicated a fraught relationship between the pair, who had argued over money and their daughter, Emelia, the Daily Mirror reports.
But prosecutors reduced the charge to unlawful killing without malice and Bennett pleaded guilty.
“Although nothing can ever erase the pain and suffering caused by Lewis Bennett’s criminal acts, the US Attorney's Office and our law enforcement partners hope that the defendant’s admission of guilt is a step toward justice for the victim, Ms Isabella Hellmann, and her family,” said Fajardo Orshan, US attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
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