• Aussie Sailor To Spend Only 7-8 Years In Prison After Wife's Murder At Sea

    The Ledger reports on the legal actions
    following the disappearance of Isabella Hellman two years earlier

    PALM BEACH GARDENS — A judge has made official what most presumed almost from the minute Isabella Hellmann was reported overboard at sea two years ago: He has declared her dead.
    The action turns over the suburban Delray Beach real estate broker’s modest estate to someone who isn’t yet old enough to appreciate it: her toddler daughter. And for her husband to go to prison in connection with her death.

    In a series of orders, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Scott Suskauer wrote that Hellmann “is presumed to have died on May 14, 2017.”

    Bennett later was charged with murder. In a November deal with federal prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. The dual British-Australian citizen, who turned 42 in April, would serve either seven or eight years in prison, followed by immediate deportation.

    In January, U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno halted Bennett’s February sentencing hearing in Miami and reset it for May 28, saying he wouldn’t act until the estate was settled and Hellmann’s family is able to visit in person with Emelia, who turns 3 in July.

    In Suskauer’s motions, the Palm Beach County judge noted Hellmann died without a will, Bennett has renounced all claims to her estate and a court in the United Kingdom declared Bennett’s parents as the toddler’s representatives.

    The court filings include a completed death certificate.

    The judge also authorized the FBI, which has had the keys to Hellmann’s condominium, to turn them over to Edward Downey, a Palm Beach Gardens lawyer for Bennett’s parents, so the property can be sold.
    And he authorized Downey to send Emelia’s trust account $18,000.

    Property records show Hellmann’s suburban Delray Beach condo is valued at $130,000. The bank accounts total $41,117, and Hellmann owed credit card companies $8,524.
    At a court hearing May 3 in Palm Beach Gardens, Downey told Suskauer his legal fees are up to about $33,000 but he would accept just $20,000. Emelia gets the $18,000, Downey gets $20,000 and the remainder goes to administer the estate. Whatever is left would go to creditors.

    Emelia also would get whatever is gained by the sale of condominium.
    “It’s just a matter of now making sure the assets get liquidated,” Downey said Tuesday. “It should be administratively easy, going forward, for Emelia.”

    Bennett’s May 28 sentencing remains is in question. Moreno, the federal judge, had wanted Hellmann’s condominium sold by then, but Downey has said he would not put it on the market until after a death declaration.

    And federal public defenders wrote the federal judge on April 17 to say the planned visit by Hellmann’s family to Scotland, to see Emelia, is delayed by visa and scheduling issues until June 6 at the earliest.

    The girl has been living with Bennett’s parents, first in England and then in Scotland, since Bennett picked her up from his in-laws in Boca Raton days after the search for Hellmann was called off. Since then, Hellmann’s family has seen her only via the internet.
    Mitchell Kitroser, the North Palm Beach lawyer representing Hellmann’s family, did not immediately return calls Tuesday morning seeking comment.

    Lewis Bennett and Isabella Hellmann had only been married three months

    Lewis Bennett has admitted killing his wife Isabella Hellmann after earlier claiming she had gone missing at sea in the Caribbean in April 2017, just three months after they got married. The photos show how Bennett sabotaged the ship to make her death look like a tragic accident, according to prosecutors.

    He is accused of intentionally sinking the 37-foot catamaran on May 15, 2017 by opening escape hatches and damaging its twin hulls. The FBI believe Bennett also opened the ship’s portholes below the waterline and damaged the vessel from the inside. In one photo released by the US Coast Guard, you can see a giant hole in the ship’s side, where water would have poured in. Prosecutors allege Bennett, from Poole, Dorset, killed Hellmann so he could get out of a strained marriage and inherit her home and money.

    The boat sank somewhere between Cuba and the Bahamas, Isabella's body was never found.

    The authorities think it may have happened after she discovered her husband was in possession of gold and silver coins stolen from his former employer in St Maarten. According to court documents, the experienced sailor said he was woken up when he heard a loud noise while resting in their cabin. He said he climbed to the exterior of the boat and observed that the sails and rigging were loose, the helm of the vessel was unmanned, and his wife – who was not an experienced sailor – was not there. Bennett said he could not recall whether he called out for his wife, and did not deploy flares to illuminate the area to look for her or signal his position in the open water.

    He later abandoned the vessel and boarded a life raft stuffed full with the stolen coins. It was not until Bennett boarded the life raft that he called for help and reported his wife missing, approximately 45 minutes after he woke up in the cabin. He was rescued by the US Coast Guard somewhere between Cuba and the Bahamas. Ms Hellmann’s body has never been found.

    Bennett has since admitted a charge of involuntary manslaughter at a change of plea hearing in Miami, Florida. He entered the plea after prosecutors reduced a charge of murder to one of unlawful killing without malice. Prosecutors initially alleged he murdered her and deliberately scuttled the vessel to end his ‘marital strife’ so he could inherit her apartment where they lived in Delray Beach, Florida.
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