Poole Murder Suspect Appears In US Court

22 February 2018, 06:25

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A Dorset has appeared in court charged with murdering his wife after he reported her missing as their catamaran sank off the coast of Cuba.

Lewis Bennett, 41, is accused of intentionally capsizing the vessel after killing Isabella Hellmann, the mother of his baby.

Bennett, from Poole, made his first court appearance in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday after being charged with second degree murder by the FBI.

He appeared in custody while serving a seven-month jail term for smuggling stolen coins during the trip from which he was rescued alone.

With Bennett's time served since his arrest nearly up, the US Department of Justice said it requested he is held in custody ahead of any trial "due to risk of flight and danger to the community". A detention hearing is expected on Monday.

The newlyweds sailed to Puerto Rico and Cuba having started their trip in St Maarten, where a year earlier Bennett had reported to police a haul of gold and silver coins having been burgled from his employer.

The catamaran left Cuba for their home in Delray Beach, Florida, but Bennett made an SOS call in the early hours of May 15 saying the boat, Surf Into Summer, was sinking and his 41-year-old wife was missing.

He was airlifted alone from a life raft and said he had been awoken by a thud having left his wife in charge of the boat the night before. The search for the estate agent was called off three days later.

FBI Special Agent James Kelley alleged two holes were made in the hull from the inside and two underwater escape hatches had been opened, causing the vessel to flood.

A coastguard professor concluded the 37ft catamaran was "intentionally scuttled", according to FBI testimony.

During interview, Bennett indicated he made no efforts to find his wife, did not shout for her and did not set off flares to draw attention to the sinking vessel, the bureau claimed.

He did, however, pack the life raft with coins, Cuban trinkets, a tea set and a jar of peanut butter, according to court documents.

Mr Kelley claimed that Bennett did not activate his satellite phone or register his personal locator beacon until he was in Cuba, alleging this showed he wanted to "ensure his own rescue and survival after murdering his wife and intentionally scuttling his catamaran".

The agent suggested a financial motive as Bennett has requested a presumptive death certificate which would allow him to inherit the US citizen's Delray Beach home and her money.

Ms Hellmann's family have also struck out at Bennett for taking the young child back to live in England with his relatives less than a week after the capsizing.

British-Australian dual citizen Bennett was jailed on Tuesday after admitting a charge of transporting stolen property over the recovered coins, valued at around 38,480 dollars (£28,500).