A man whose wife disappeared at sea while on their honeymoon has been sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in her mysterious disappearance.
Lewis Bennett was sentenced Tuesday to the maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter by a Miami federal judge, two years after his wife, Isabella Hellman, disappeared from the couple’s catamaran as they sailed through the Caribbean on a delayed honeymoon after tying the knot.
Bennett had asked the judge to sentence him to just seven years in prison so that he’d be able to be reunited sooner with the couple’s young daughter, but U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno said the circumstances of the case required the maximum sentence under the law, according to The Miami Herald.
“Sentencing is for punishment,” Moreno said. “When a life is taken, even if it’s involuntary manslaughter, the sentence should be eight years.”
After reaching an agreement with prosecutors, Bennett agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter in November; however, many details of the case continue to be a mystery.
Hellman’s family believes Bennett killed his wife on the high seas during the honeymoon trip and opposed the plea deal, particularly because Bennett has still given few details about what happened the fateful night his wife disappeared.
“He needs to say what happened,” her sister Dayana Rodriguez said at the time of the plea, according to the local paper. “She disappeared and that’s it. What happened to her? And we’re here suffering.”
Prosecutors had initially charged Bennett with second-degree murder after discovering strife within the couple’s short marriage, but struggled to find enough evidence to prove the newlywed met a sinister end.
Bennett has claimed his wife disappeared overnight on May 15, 2017 after he had gone below deck to get some sleep. He said he was awoken by a loud noise and went above deck, but his wife was gone.
In his plea deal, he said that although he did not witness the accident it was foreseeable and caused by his negligence.
Bennett, an experienced sailor himself, has also admitted to putting forth minimal effort to look for his wife once he discovered she was gone. He told authorities he didn’t remember whether he had ever called out her name and said that while he did throw a life ring overboard, he never used any flares to illuminate the area to look for her, according to his statement in the plea agreement.
“Additionally, Mr. Bennett did not search for her with the catamaran or the dinghy that was attached,” the statement said.
Investigators with the FBI discovered a hole in the hull of the boat, but believed the hole had likely been made from inside, according to WPTV.
Bennett, who has dual citizenship from Britain and Australia, apologized to Hellman’s family at a hearing in January calling his wife his soulmate and saying her death was the greatest loss he had ever had to endure.
“I know they have been through unimaginable pain as a result of my actions and for that I am truly sorry,” he said in January. “I know that my words cannot heal them, but I apologize to them from the bottom of my heart and hope that one day their pain will ease.”
The couple’s daughter Emelia, who is now 3 years old, is being raised by Bennett’s parents in Scotland. As part of the sentence, Bennett has been ordered to pay about $23,000 to Emelia and was required to give up his claim on the couple’s home, valued at $160,000.
He will also be ordered to serve three years of supervised release after his prison term ends, according to The Palm Beach Post.
Hellman’s family plans to make a visit to Scotland next week to visit Emelia, who they’ve been able to communicate with only through the internet since the search for Hellman was called off.
“This concludes a sad chapter for this family,” said the Hellman family attorney Mitch Kitroser. “All we can do is hope these visits go forward so Emelia grows up knowing she has two families. She’s lost her mother, but not her mother’s family.”
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