Dorset

Isabella Hellman death: Husband's guilty plea 'heartbreaking'

Lewis Bennett / Isabella Hellmann Image copyright PA/Broward Sheriff's Office/Facebook
Image caption Lewis Bennett and Isabella Hellmann had been married for three months when she vanished at sea

Relatives of an American woman who was killed at sea by her British husband have said their "hearts are broken" after his admission of guilt.

Lewis Bennett, 41, from Poole, Dorset, pleaded guilty at a Florida court on Monday to causing the death of 41-year-old Isabella Hellmann.

She vanished after their catamaran sank in the straits of Florida in 2017.

The family said it felt "bitter" that the case had ended with a plea to a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Bennett, a British-Australian dual citizen, had been due to stand trial in December charged with second-degree murder.

Intentionally scuttled

The couple had been married for three months when Ms Hellmann disappeared on 15 May 2017 on a sailing trip from Cuba to Florida.

Bennett said he woke up to find the helm unmanned and decided to abandon the vessel.

Coastguards found him in a life raft with antique silver coins, worth nearly £30,000, which he had reported as being stolen from a former employer a year earlier.

Investigators later found evidence that the catamaran had been intentionally scuttled.

Image copyright US Coast Guard
Image caption Bennett reported his wife missing in an SOS call as their catamaran was sinking

Prosecutors previously alleged Bennett was motivated by inheriting money from Ms Hellmann and ending their "marital strife".

In a statement, Ms Hellmann's family said the guilty plea was confirmation of her death, which had caused "unbearable pain".

The family said Bennett was also depriving them of contact with the couple's daughter in England.

"This little girl will have to endure this tragedy as she grows up and she needs all the help she can get," the family said.

Bennett faces a maximum eight-year prison term when he is sentenced over his wife's death in January.

He is already serving a seven-month jail sentence after pleading guilty to transporting the coins.

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