Victim’s family plea to her killer husband
THE devastated family of a woman killed at sea by her Australian husband have begged him to allow them to see the couple's daughter.
Lewis Bennett, 41, a dual British-Australian sailor, issued a shock plea of guilty to the involuntary manslaughter of his wife Isabella Hellmann, 41, who vanished during their honeymoon cruise in the Bahamas in May last year.
Bennett has always denied involvement in his wife's death and had been accused of deliberately killing her and scuttling their 40ft catamaran to make the death look like an accident.
The charge he has pleaded guilty to means Bennett admits that he was negligent - and that his negligence resulted in her death.
Investigators alleged he wanted to inherit her estate in order to settle his own debts - and then take their baby daughter Emelia to live in Australia.
Emelia is now aged two and is living with Bennett's parents in England and they have been denied access to the child since Ms Hellmann's death.
The relationship between the Hellmanns and Bennett has been difficult for a long time - they believed he was behind her disappearance from the start and even placed listening devices in his Florida home in an attempt to record conversations.
They also argued with him in front of police, and he claimed they had stolen things from his apartment.
After the guilty plea, the family issued a desperate statement through their lawyer asking Bennett to show some remorse.
"The pain he has caused them is unbearable and never goes away....There is nothing that Lewis can do to ease the pain he has caused them by taking Isabella from them. There is, however, additional pain that he has caused, and continues to cause, by depriving them contact with his and Isabella's daughter, Emelia. As much as she was anyone's, she was theirs and they love her and miss her."
The only contact they have had with Emelia was three Facetime chats.
"But they have not seen her or hugged her in too long. They want to hold her, to love her and to be with her. She is, after all, as much a part of their family as his."
The statement said they wanted Bennett to do the right thing.
"If remorse is to be shown by Lewis Bennett, and we hope that he feels remorse for what he has done, then the only thing that he can do to alleviate even a fraction of their pain, is to share Emelia with Isabella's family. Nothing will ever bring Isabella back and they know that. Regardless of the sentence imposed, she will never come home, but Mr Bennett can allow Emelia to come home."
They wanted to share custody with his England-based family because she has "two families that love her...not just one."
"It is the decent thing to do. It is the remorseful thing to do. It is the only good thing that can come from such a terrible tragedy," the family statement said.
They were "bitter" the case ended in involuntary manslaughter, but grateful it was reaching a conclusion.
The plea did not require him to reveal how Ms Hellmann died. In the months before she died, she confessed in texts that she was scared of her husband.
Her text messages revealed she felt Bennett did not "respect her any more" and that she "found an angry person" when she came home.
Hellmann also said she was "afraid to get home".
Court documents detail the text messages, which also read: "Sometimes I can be a pain in the a** and more but you need to change your attitude... you make me crazy shouting, yelling, swearing... YOU ARE PUSHING ME AWAY."
Months before Ms Hellmann's disappearance, she wrote: "If you don't like me or love me anymore let us fix this asap because is very pathetic the way you treated me all the time."
The couple had taken their catamaran, Surf Into Summer, to the Caribbean as a belated honeymoon three months after their wedding, leaving their infant daughter with family.
As they were returning home from the Bahamas towards Florida, Bennett sent an emergency signal, saying the vessel had been in a collision.
He claimed to have then retired to bed, leaving his wife on the deck of the catamaran.
When he woke he could not find her, and emergency crews later found Bennett on a life raft in the water as the boat sank.
Bennett will be sentenced in January. He faces up to eight years jail.