BERLIN — Just days after the trial for accused murderer Matthew Burton was postponed for a second time, the defendants in a separate civil suit filed against the church where the victim worked and its pastor filed a motion to dismiss that parallel case.
Last August, a Worcester County grand jury indicted Burton, 29, of Dagsboro, on eight counts including first-degree murder and first-degree rape in the death of Nicole Bennett, 35, of Millsboro, whose body was found on a roadside embankment in Whaleyville in Worcester County on the morning of June 15 last year. Burton was scheduled to stand trial in February, but the trial has been postponed twice.
Meanwhile, the defendants in a separate wrongful death civil suit filed against the Bay Shore Community Church in Millsboro, where Bennett worked, and the church’s pastor Danny Tice filed a motion to dismiss the case this week although no action has been taken on the motion.
On April 17, the victim’s husband, Kevin Bennett, and his family filed a wrongful death suit in Delaware Superior Court against the church and Tice, alleging the defendants were aware of Burton’s prior rape convictions and violent past and yet allowed him to work alone at the church with Nicole Bennett on the night she was murdered.
According to the suit, Tice learned that Burton was a registered sex offender and was on probation for multiple sex crimes. Burton was a registered Tier I sex offender, having been charged with 22 felony counts of rape against a child. Burton was required to register as a sex offender in Delaware prior to his employment as a custodian at the church.
After Tice and the church learned of Burton’s sexual predator past, they gave Burton two weeks to find another job. On the last day of his employment with the church, Nicole Bennett disappeared and her body was found the next day in northern Worcester County. In the wrongful death suit, the victim’s husband asserts Tice should be held partly responsible because he failed to warn his wife and presumably others of Burton’s past.
“The death of Nicole Bennett was a direct and proximate cause of the negligent actions of Tice, who was acting in the scope of his employment when he failed to adequately warn Nicole Bennett of the risk presented by fellow employee Burton, and this failure led to Nicole Bennett’s death,” the suit reads.
Bennett’s attorney Bart Dalton said this week he will soon file the appropriate response in opposition.