Man set to plead guilty in wife’s disappearance at sea

Lester Mason
November 8, 2018

Nobody ever found Hellman, but the Coast Guard did find the stolen coins.

In November, Bennett pleaded guilty to unrelated charges of transporting $5,000 in gold and silver coins, according to the complaint.

He claimed their catamaran was sinking and his 41-year-old wife was nowhere to be seen.

Bennett has since admitted a charge of involuntary manslaughter at a change of plea hearing in Miami, Florida, on Monday, following his wife's death.

Hellman's death resulted in part from her husband's "gross negligence, amounting to wanton and reckless disregard for human life", prosecutors said.

Bennett's admission says on May 14, 2017, he and Hellman, while on the last leg of a two-week sail around the Caribbean, had dinner around 8 p.m.

After abandoning the catamaran for a life raft, Bennett allegedly used a satellite phone to call a colleague in Australia to give his coordinates and ask the colleague to notify the US Coast Guard. Bennett noticed the sails and rigging were loose, and saw his wife wasn't at the controls, prosecutors said.

If the trial went ahead Bennett faced the prospect of life in prison if convicted of the murder charge while prosecutors had the potential stumbling block with a jury of being unable to confirm where her body was.

ABC News could not immediately reach Bennett's federal public defender, Vanessa Chen, for comment.

He did not deploy any flares and did not search for Hellmann in the water with either the catamaran or an attached dinghy.

According to court documents, experienced sailor Bennett was awoken on May 15 2017 when he heard a loud noise while resting in their cabin.

Now, in his second federal court guilty plea of 2018, Bennett admits legal responsibility for all of the above from May 2017. Bennett estimated that about 45 minutes to an hour had elapsed from the time he woke up until he abandoned the catamaran, prosecutors said.

The Coast Guard used ships, planes and helicopters to comb over almost 5,000 square miles over the following days but suspended the search on May 18, 2017.

Bennett told authorities at the time that the boat hit something while he was asleep, and the vessel began taking on water. 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.

A Naval expert concluded that "the holes in the hull under the forward hatches are unexplainable as structural failures due to the working of the vessel or as a result of a collision ..."

Earlier court documents revealed Ms Hellman's family became suspicious when Bennett requested a "letter of presumed death" so he could settle her estate less than 24 hours after the incident. Bennett told other agencies he yelled out for his wife and threw out a buoy, according to the affidavit.

Prosecutors will recommend he serve eight years' jail while his lawyers will not seek less than seven years.

In a family statement, obtained by CNN affiliate WPTV, Hellman family attorney Joel Weissman said his clients' "hearts are broken". They left their infant daughter, Emelia, with her family in Florida. "The pain he has caused them is unbearable and never goes away", the statement said.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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