A man whose wife disappeared, and was presumed to have died, during their 2017 honeymoon at sea was sentenced to eight years in prison Tuesday.
Lewis Bennett, 42, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of his wife, Isabella Hellman.
According to court documents, the newlywed couple from Florida set sail on a 40-foot catamaran in May 2017, making stops in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and St. Maarten.
Bennett, a dual citizen of Australia and the United Kingdom, is a highly experienced sailor with an official certification from the Royal Yachting Association, according to the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida. His wife was far less experienced and untrained in emergency procedures.
One night after leaving Cuba en route to Florida, Bennett asked his wife to take control of the boat so he could sleep. He did not require her to wear a life jacket, harness, or personal locator beacon while she manned the vessel.
He awoke when the boat hit something and began sinking, and his wife was nowhere to be found, he told investigators.
Photos of the capsized boat indicated that it was damaged from the inside, with no evidence that it ever crashed into anything, prosecutors said. A United States Coast Guard Academy professor who reviewed evidence determined the boat was "intentionally scuttled."
Bennett then abandoned the sinking vessel and escaped on a life raft, which he packed up with several pieces of luggage, 14 gallons of water, food, buoys, a tea set, and trinkets from their stop in Cuba, according to court documents.
He did not call for help until he was safely on the life raft — about 45 minutes after he first woke up — and did not look for or call out for his missing wife.
Search efforts to find Hellman were unsuccessful, and her body was never recovered. She has since been declared legally dead.
Bennett also pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $40,000 worth of gold and silver coins, which came from a vessel he'd worked on the previous year. The coins were among the possessions he brought with him on the life raft.
Bennett reportedly apologized in court to Hellman's family, saying he regrets the "pain" he has caused them.
He and Hellman had a daughter together, who is now 2 and living with his parents in Scotland.
Bennett asked for a sentence of seven years, rather than eight, so he could be back in his daughter's life sooner, but US District Judge Federico Moreno refused.
"Sentencing is for punishment,” the judge said. “When a life is taken, even if it’s involuntary manslaughter, the sentence should be eight years."