Newlywed ‘dead’ as Aussie husband awaits sentencing
The newlywed wife of an Australian man has been officially declared dead two years after she went missing at sea.
Florida judge Scott Suskauer declared 41-year-old Isabella Hellman presumed dead at sea.
The Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge made the order on May 9, almost two years to the day that Ms Hellman disappeared on May 23, 2017.
Ms Hellman's husband, 42-year-old Lewis Bennett faces sentencing over her death this month.
He pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in November. A plea agreement in place caps his possible prison sentence to eight years. Ms Hellman's family had urged the judge to overrule Mr Bennett's plea deal so he could face trial for murder.
Mr Bennett was discovered alone in a lifeboat when Ms Hellman went missing.
He claimed at the time he was asleep below deck when their 37-foot catamaran 'Surf Into Summer' took on water and sank off the coast of Florida.
He was found with his luggage after he sent a distress signal.
The prosecution questioned why Mr Bennett had packed his personal items into a life raft instead of looking for his wife. He conceded he did almost nothing to find her.
He also admitted he never asked Ms Hellman to wear a life jacket, despite knowing she was a weak swimmer.
Ms Hellman's body was never found, but it was revealed she had sent text messages months before her disappearance which indicated that she had feared Mr Bennett's temper.
Judge Suskauer's order means the couple's young daughter is able to inherit her mother's estate, which is about $18,000 after being depleted by debt repayments and legal costs.
The couple had been married three months before Ms Hellman died.
Mr Bennett worked as a mining engineer. He holds dual British and Australian citizenship and lived on the Gold Coast at one point. Ms Hellman was born in Colombia.