From the moment US coast guards found Lewis Bennett floating alone in a life raft near the Bahamas two years ago, the former Gold Coast businessman maintained that his wife had been killed in a tragic boating accident.
But prosecutors claimed otherwise, and on Tuesday, local time, a Miami court sentenced him to eight years behind bars.
The dual British/Australian citizen accepted a plea deal in November that saw him convicted of a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter over the death of his wife Isabella Hellmann, who vanished when their luxury 37-foot catamaran sunk in May 2017.
The Colombian-born woman’s body has never been found.
The mysterious collision and the stolen coins.
Bennett and Hellmann, a real estate broker, had been married for three months and were returning home to Florida from their belated Caribbean honeymoon when Bennett made an SOS call to say his boat was sinking.
Bennett 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 – was nowhere to be seen.
In a statement released after Tuesday’s sentencing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office noted that “Bennett did not require Ms. Hellman to wear a life jacket, harness, or personal locator beacon while at the helm during this night watch,” nor did he set off emergency flares or use the attached dinghy to search for her when he woke.
“It was not until Bennett boarded the life raft that he called for help and reported his wife missing, approximately 45 minutes after he was awakened,” the statement read.
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 was serving seven months in a Miami prison.
But in February 2018, prosecutors added a more serious crime to his rap sheet, when they charged him second-degree murder.