PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Could the sentencing for a man accused of causing his wife's presumed death at sea be delayed again?
A federal judge is expected to sentence Lewis Bennett for involuntary manslaughter later this month.
That judge told Bennett's attorneys, the U.S. Attorneys Office, and Isabella Hellmann's family he wanted Hellmann's estate to be passed on to her two-year-old daughter, Emelia, before he sentences Bennett. That estate transfer has not happened yet.
On Friday, an attorney representing Bennett's parents, Thomas and Sheila Bennett, who have custody of Emelia in the United Kingdom, asked a Palm Beach County judge to grant a renewed petition to declare Hellmann dead. The Bennetts need to do this in order to pass on rights to Hellmann's condo to Emelia.
In less than two weeks, it will be two years since Hellmann went missing from Bennett's boat off the coast of the Bahamas. Bennett was charged with murder in the case, but the charge was lowered to involuntary manslaughter in a plea deal.
A federal judge who was going to sentence Bennett in January learned of the unfinished business pertaining to Hellmann's condo and money in a few of her bank accounts, and ordered the assets to be passed into a trust in Emelia's name before he issues a sentence in the case.
The judge also told Bennett he wanted Bennett's parents to work with Hellmann's family to allow them visitation of the toddler.
Federal court documents show that Hellmann's family has arranged to visit Emelia in the U.K. on June 6. The families are communicating regularly now and the court documents say "the Bennetts have agreed to facilitate at least two FaceTime calls per month."
"I know that there have been frequent communications back and forth between the family and Emelia's caretakers, and I think they are coordinating," said Edward Downey, an attorney representing Mr. and Mrs. Bennett.
Downey also included petitions to address about $40,000 Hellman had in bank accounts, which he mentioned will also help pay creditors and his legal costs. Downey said his time working the case amounts to $33,000, but he is charging a flat rate of $20,000.
Hellmann's condo is also included in the petition. Downey said it's worth less than $200,000 and is currently accumulating HOA fees. He's asking the judge that the condo be placed in Emelia's name so Bennett's parents can sell it on her behalf and place the funds in a trust, along with any assets left from the funds in the bank accounts.
A federal judge asked that these issues be taken care of before sentencing. It's not clear if he will delay sentencing until the condo is sold.
"I'm not sure whether the federal judge wanted the property to be sold before he sentenced Mr. Bennett, or whether he just wanted the property to be in Emelia's name," said Downey.
The attorney representing Hellmann's family was not in court Friday. The judge called him in open court and asked if he had any objections to the petitions filed by Downey. He said he did not.