A federal judge informed Lewis Bennett in court Wednesday morning that he has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the disappearance of his wife Isabella Hellmann.
Bennett was sentenced to 7 months in federal prison on Tuesday for transporting stolen coins the FBI says were part of the inventory on the life raft he used to escape his sinking boat last May. That's the boat he and his wife were traveling in.
It's not clear if the evidence in that case will be used to try to prove he intentionally sank his boat and killed his wife, as the FBI alleges. But maritime expert Joanne Foster believes the FBI will have plenty of evidence.
The FBI has videos and pictures of the boat Bennett and his wife were traveling in before she was lost at sea.
"When people intentionally scuttle a boat, they leave a lot of evidence behind," said Foster.
The FBI determined two holes in the hull of the boat were made from the inside and could not have been caused by a collision as Bennett stated to the U.S. Coast Guard.
"The holes were too neat. There's no scraping around the holes. You don't see anything leading up to that puncture and you don't see anything trailing from it," said Foster.
Foster noted in order to make Bennett's story plausible that the boat hit something, you would see some scraping leading up to the hole in the hull. Foster has several years experience with insurance defense and says the holes, the escape hatch found open beneath the waterline of the boat, and the laundry-list of items including 14 gallons of water and the alleged stolen silver coins Bennett had time to place in the life-raft do not point to an accidental sinking.
"Once you've opened the hatch you've pretty much declared your intentions and prevented the boat from being saved," added Foster.
The FBI said Bennett admitted to never looking for the source of the flooding or try to save the boat. Federal agents also said when interviewed Bennett admitted he never tried to look for his wife after he noticed she was gone, or call out to her.
Foster questions if the FBI had a chance to look at the bilge pumps on the boat which pump out any water seeping in and could have kept the boat afloat longer.
"We don't know if they were running, if they were disconnected, and there's no way to find out unless you actually had the hull and had someone go on and look at it," said Foster.
Bennett is set to appear in court again on Monday. During Wednesday's hearing, Bennett told the judge his attorney is Marc Shiner, who represented him in the federal coin case. But Shiner's office has confirmed he is not representing Bennett on the murder charge at this time.