Grisly new photos are shedding light on the events that led to an experienced British sailor killing his American wife on their honeymoon by sinking their catamaran in the Caribbean.
Lewis Bennett initially told the U.S. Coast Guard in 2017 he did not know what happened to his new bride Isabella Hellmann. Authorities found Bennett off the coast of Cuba near his overturned vessel. He was initially charged with murder but later pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
The new pictures are part of a bid by U.S. prosecutors to seek an eight-year-sentence for the Dorset man. He is expected to be sentenced on Tuesday in Miami.
The pictures, taken by the U.S. Coast Guard, show the vessel with open escape hatches and damage to both hulls which prosecutors allege were caused from inside the boat. Authorities say Bennett opened the hatches and damaged the hulls before making a call to the Coast Guard to say that his boat was sinking and that his wife was missing.
"Although nothing can ever erase the pain and suffering caused by Lewis Bennett's criminal acts, the U.S. Attorney's Office and our law enforcement partners hope that the defendant's admission of guilt is a step toward justice for the victim," U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan said in a statement during Bennett’s trial in Miami.
Bennett, a mining engineer, had told the FBI and British journalists that he and Hellmann, a South Florida real estate agent, took their 37-foot catamaran, Surf Into Summer, for a Caribbean cruise. They left their infant daughter, Emelia, with her family in Florida.
As the catamaran passed the Bahamas on the return to Florida, Bennett sent out an emergency radio signal. When the Coast Guard found him on a life raft three hours later, he told rescuers he left Hellmann on deck as he retired for the night to their cabin. He said he was jolted awake when their craft hit something and that Hellmann was gone when he went outside. He said he abandoned the catamaran in a life raft because it was sinking.
A sworn document signed by Bennett and filed in court says that he could not recall whether he called out for his wife. He did not deploy any flares and did not search for Hellmann in the water with either the catamaran or an attached dinghy. Nor did Bennett immediately activate any emergency equipment or call for help using his satellite phone.
It was not until Bennett boarded the life raft – with their luggage- that he called for help and reported his wife missing, about 45 minutes after he was awakened.
Prosecutors said Bennett is an experienced sailor who received a certification from the Royal Yachting Association in the United Kingdom as a "Coastal Skipper." The training included instruction on emergency procedures such as man-overboard protocols and night-sailing safety. His wife was not nearly as experienced.
The Coast Guard eventually located the boat. The FBI says an inspection of the catamaran before it sank showed portholes below the waterline had been opened and damage to the twin hulls appeared to have been caused from the inside, meaning the boat may have been intentionally scuttled.
Investigators also found Bennett on the life raft with $100,000 worth of coins stolen from a yacht he had worked aboard in 2016.
Bennett pleaded guilty to the coin theft charge and received a seven-month prison sentence. While serving that sentence, he was charged in February 2018 with Hellmann's death and has remained behind bars.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.