Husband Admits Role in Wife's Death at Sea During Honeymoon Cruise 3 Months After Wedding
On May 14, 2017, Lewis Bennett and his wife, Isabella Hellman, left Cuba for Florida aboard the catamaran "Surf Into Summer" — but Hellman didn't make it
About nine months after federal prosecutors alleged a 41-year-old man killed his wife during an overdue honeymoon celebration on the high seas, officials say he pleaded to a lesser charge on Tuesday, PEOPLE confirms.
Lewis Bennett pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter, according to a statement released from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
The statement details a series of actions that Bennett could have taken, but did not, in order to search for and possibly aid his spouse after she vanished while they were boating.
“Lewis Bennett will now be held accountable for his wife’s death,” said Tom James, acting special agent in charge for the FBI in Miami.
On May 14, 2017, Bennett, a dual citizen of Australia and the United Kingdom, and his wife, Isabella Hellman, a U.S. citizen, left Cuba for Florida aboard his catamaran, known as “Surf Into Summer.” They had been married for three months, according to the Miami Herald.
About 8 p.m., Bennett had Hellman take control of the vessel, according to the prosecutor’s statement, but did not make her to wear a life jacket or personal locator beacon during the night watch.
The following morning, Bennett awoke to 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,” according to the statement. “He did not deploy flares to illuminate the area…or to signal his position in the open water for safety and/or recovery.”
The catamaran was inoperable and Bennett, an experienced sailor, left the vessel and boarded a life raft with supplies and a collection of silver coins, officials stated. It wasn’t until then that he alerted authorities and reported his wife missing.
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A U.S. Coast Guard received an emergency alert and eventually rescued Bennett, but Hellman’s body has never been recovered.
According to court documents filed in September, 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.
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Bennett was initially scheduled to stand trial in December for a 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.”
Bennett is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 10, where he faces up to eight years in prison. (His federal public defender could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.)
Said U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan in the statement: “Although nothing can ever erase the pain and suffering caused by Lewis Bennett’s criminal acts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners hope that the defendant’s admission of guilt is a step toward justice for the victim.”