From the moment US coast guards found Lewis Bennett floating alone in a life raft near the Bahamas, the former Gold Coast businessman has maintained his wife’s death was a tragic accident.
But on Monday, that could change.
According to Florida newspaper The Ledger, the dual British/Australian citizen is expected to make a plea deal with US prosecutors, accepting a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter over the death of Isabella Hellmann, who vanished when their luxury 37-foot catamaran sunk in May 2017.
The Columbian-born woman’s body was never found.
The mysterious collision and the stolen coins.
Bennett, 41, and Hellmann had been married for three months and were returning home to Florida from their belated Carribbean honeymoon when Bennett made an SOS call to say his boat was sinking.
The former Gold Coast businessman told authorities that he was sleeping below deck when he was jolted awake by what felt like a collision with an unknown object. Bennett said he scrambled topside and jumped on a lifeboat, but his wife – who had agreed to take watch and was wearing a life jacket – was nowhere to be seen.
In the lifeboat with Bennett was a bag filled with roughly US$40,000 (AUD$55,500) worth of gold and silver coins; coins that prosecutors later proved he had stolen from his boss while working as a crewman on a yacht in 2016.
Bennett was convicted of the theft and is currently serving seven months in a Miami prison.
But in February, prosecutors added a more serious crime to Bennett’s rap sheet, when they charged him second-degree murder.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, investigators believed that rather than suffering a collision, the vessel had been "intentionally scuttled". They discovered that the catamaran had sustained seemingly deliberate damage from the inside, and that escape hatches below the waterline had been opened, causing the cabin to flood.