A British-Australian man has apologised for “poor decisions” that led to the death of his new wife, after pleading guilty to her involuntary manslaughter.
Lewis Bennett and Isabella Hellman, both real estate agents, had been honeymooning on a boat in the Caribbean when Mrs Hellman vanished.
Mr Bennett pleaded guilty to the involuntary manslaughter of his new bride in November last year and was due for sentencing in early January. But the trial judge has delayed sentencing proceedings until more of the couple’s shared assets are sold off.
The 41-year-old woman disappeared on the night of May 15, after their 37-foot catamaran had set off from Cuba and was nearing the Bahamas. Mr Bennett was an experienced sailor, while his wife was relatively inexperienced and a poor swimmer.
He initially reported a collision and fled the boat as it sank near the Bahamas, claiming he didn’t know where his wife had gone.
He initially claimed he nothing to do with the death of his wife, but after reaching a deal with Federal prosecutors and having the murder charge downgraded to manslaughter, the 41-year-old entered a guilty plea.
Mr Bennett’s lawyers argued in court the death of his wife was an accident that occurred due to his negligence. Court documents detail him stocking a life raft with food and supplies, but say he failed to properly search for his wife when he couldn’t find her on board.
“Mr Bennett could not recall whether he called out (his wife’s) name,” the court documents read.
“Although Mr Bennett threw a horseshoe life ring overboard, he did not deploy flares to illuminate the area to look for his wife or to signal his position, nor did he turn the catamaran around to look for her.
“Additionally, Mr Bennett did not search for her with the catamaran or the dinghy that was attached.”
As his sentencing date nears, Mr Bennett has read out a statement to the court, begging the judge for mercy for the sake of his daughter.
Mr Bennett claimed the loss of his “soulmate was the greatest loss ever endured.” He has sought to return to his daughter’s side in a “timely” manner.
“I have made poor decisions which compounded a tragedy of such magnitude that I pray no one else would ever have to experience it. For these reasons I am very contrite,” Mr Bennett wrote.
“Sometimes in life, one must submit to a greater order. I ask God why, why would he show me love so true only to take it away and the only answer I can surmise is the gift of our daughter.
“And for her sake, Your Honour, I beg humbly for mercy. Please allow me to get back to (my daughter) in the most timely manner possible.
“Losing my soulmate was the greatest loss I ever endured,” the note reads.
Mr Bennett’s sentencing has been delayed until May, when properties owned by the couple can be settled and funds be moved into a trust for their daughter.
Police located Mr Bennett on a life raft about five hours after he sent the emergency signal with a bag of silver and gold coins worth more than $138,946 (US $100,000). These had been stolen from his former employer. At this time he was initially charged with theft and jailed for seven months. The charges of killing his wife came at the end of this prison stay.
He was charged with the second-degree murder of his wife, which he denied. But in November reports surfaced that Mr Bennett had struck a deal with prosecutors when the charges were downgraded to manslaughter.
Mr Bennett faces the maximum sentence of eight years for the charges. His defence lawyer has argued for seven years, saying his entanglement with the law is an “aberration”.
After he serves his sentence he will likely be deported to either Australia or Britain, where he has dual citizenship.
When Mr Bennett sent the emergency signal he claimed their vessel had been in a collision.
He then said he retired below deck, leaving his wife on the deck of the catamaran.
An FBI investigation concluded damage to the boat that resulted in it sinking had been caused internally.
Mr Bennett had a daughter with his late wife, who they’d left with relatives as they honeymooned three months after their wedding. Emelia, now two years old, lives in Scotland with the man’s parents.
Family members of the deceased woman expressed frustration at the accused’s negotiating with the court.
“I know he did something to my sister,” Dayan Rodriguez, the sister of Mrs Hellman, told U.S. District Court Judge Federico Moreno.
In the family’s own statement to the court, they labelled his plea “outrageous,” pleading that the judge reconsider the sentencing and take Mr Bennett to a criminal trial.
It was alleged by the prosecution that before the honeymoon, the couple had been arguing about financial woes and issues relating to Emelia. Among their disagreements was reportedly disagreements about whether to emigrate to Australia.
Within 24 hours of his wife’s disappearance, Mr Bennett had asked for a “letter of presumed death” so he could settle his wife’s estate.
The prosecution alleged the death of his wife would enable him to inherit money from her estate and end other marital woes.