A British man whose wife disappeared while they honeymooned at sea off the coast of the Bahamas has been sentenced to eight years in prison despite begging to be allowed to return to Leith to look after their infant daughter.
Lewis Bennett, 42, pleaded guilty to the involuntary manslaughter of wife Isabella Hellmann after the couple’s catamaran sank in the Caribbean in May 2017.
Mr Bennett, originally from Poole, Dorset, initially sent an SOS message after the vessel reportedly capsized in May 2017.
Bennett was later found floating on a liferaft with almost £30,000 worth of stolen gold coins by coastguard officials and arrested on a smuggling charge.
Prosecutors alleged he murdered Isabella to end his “marital strife” and inherit her apartment and wealth, but he later pled guilty to a charge of unlawful killing “without malice”.
Bennett apologised to his late wife’s family yesterday in a hearing before US District Judge Federico Moreno in Miami.
Defence attorneys sought a seven-year sentence, a year lower than the maximum number spelled out in a plea agreement on an involuntary manslaughter charge reached last November.
“It’s not because I expect that he will commit this crime again,” Judge Moreno said. “Sentencing is for punishment.”
Before Moreno announced his decision, Bennett, a dual citizen of Australia and the UK, asked the judge that he let him get out of prison sooner so he could continue to raise the couple’s daughter, who was an infant when the mother vanished. Emelia Bennet turns three in July and is being raised by his family in Leith.
“If you may permit me to be with my daughter as soon as possible,” Bennett said. “I want to bring her up in a manner that is respectful to my wife’s wishes.”
But Moreno sided with prosecutors and chose eight years in prison as the sentence and three years on supervised release.
Hellman disappeared as the couple sailed off the Bahamas in May 2017. Her husband insisted he left her on deck when he went to the boat’s cabin to sleep. He said he woke up when the craft hit something, and Hellman was missing.
The FBI says the catamaran’s portholes were opened and the hull damaged from the inside.
Assistant US attorney Kurt Lunkenheimer said that Bennett “did not search for her diligently enough despite him being an experienced sailor.”
The defence attorney declined to comment, but an attorney for Hellman’s family said her relatives were satisfied with the judge’s decisions and were excited they would soon be able to visit Emelia in Scotland.
“There is nothing that can or could be done to bring Isabella back,” said Mitchell Kitroser, a lawyer who spoke on behalf of the Hellman’s family and said they were planning a visit in June. Emelia “lost her mom but that doesn’t mean that she has lost her mom’s family.”