A man whose wife disappeared while they honeymooned at sea has been sentenced by a federal judge to eight years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
Lewis Bennett, 42, apologized to the family of Isabella Hellman during a Tuesday hearing before U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno in Miami. He waived his right to appeal.
Defense attorneys sought a 7-year sentence, a year lower than the maximum number spelled out in a plea agreement reached last November. Bennett was originally charged with murder, with investigators alleging he intentionally tried to sink the boat, but later dropped the charges. “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 United Kingdom, 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 Bennett turns 3 in July and is being raised by his parents in Scotland.
“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. A statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office says Bennett had experience sailing, including training on emergency procedures and had previously traveled from St. Marteen to Australia. His wife, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Cuba, had not trained in emergency sailing procedures and had less experience, prosecutors said.
The couple had been married for three months when they set sail to St. Marteen, Puerto Rico and Cuba for a delayed honeymoon in late April. After they left Cuba on May 14, Bennett asked Hellman take over control of the boat for the night so he could go rest in the boat’s cabin, according to court documents. He didn’t require her to wear a life jacket, harness or personal locator, prosecutors said in the statement.
He said he woke up when the craft hit something, and Hellman was missing. Assistant U.S. attorney Kurt Lunkenheimer said on Tuesday that Bennett “did not search for her diligently enough despite him being an experienced sailor.”