Federal public defender to represent Lewis Bennett in murder case connected to wife's disappearance

Posted at 10:45 AM, Feb 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-26 19:27:26-05

Lewis Bennett, who is charged with second-degree murder in connection with his wife Isabella Hellmann's disappearance at sea, asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Chris McAliley on Monday to appoint a federal public defender in his case.

The judge asked Bennett a series of questions about his economic status. He revealed he has had no income over the last six months while he has been detained and now sentenced for a federal charge of transporting stolen coins.

Bennett told the judge he only has $2,000 in a bank account in Australia and has no real estate. The judge asked him about the condo he listed as his local residence and he said it was under his wife's name and he has no access to it.

The U.S. Attorney's office told the judge that the government found $20,000 cash in Bennett's backpack that was in his wife's car, but it would not be releasing the money to Bennett.

"I’m assuming that the government will try to say that that $20 thousand was derived from the proceeds of whatever coins were not recovered and if he sold those coins those were the proceeds that he got off ill-got gains and therefore, he would not be entitled to get them back or get the cash back," said former FBI agent Stuart Kaplan.

Kaplan believes the money may be intertwined with the coin case and therefore can remain seized. But it also raises suspicion that could be included the murder case. 

"You have to wonder what was the reason for keeping his coins so close to him?" added Kaplan. 

Federal agents say the coins were found in the life raft Bennett used to escape his sinking boat the night his wife was lost at sea.

The FBI claims Bennett scuttled his boat by making holes in the hull from the inside of the boat but has not revealed how investigators think Bennett killed his wife.

Bennett is set to have another hearing on Friday and will be arraigned on March 7.