NEW FOR MONDAY: Prosecutors Drop Death Penalty Bid In Local Murder Case After Legislature’s Repeal

SNOW HILL — In what is likely one of the first reversals of its kind, the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office last week withdrew its intent to seek the death penalty for the accused murderer of a Delaware woman just days after state lawmakers voted to repeal the death penalty in Maryland.

Last August, a Worcester County grand jury indicted Matthew N. 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. As the case continued to progress toward a trial tentatively scheduled for this June, on Feb. 28, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office filed a Notice of Intent to seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, along with a Notice of Intent to seek a sentence of death for Burton.

However, the Maryland General Assembly two weeks ago voted to repeal the death penalty in Maryland, leaving the Burton case in Worcester and presumably many other active cases around the state in limbo. Last Thursday, the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office withdrew its Notice of Intent to seek a sentence of death in the Burton case, according to court records.

Burton, a registered Tier I sex offender in Delaware, worked as a custodian in the church where the victim also worked and where she was last seen alive the night before her body was discovered. Shortly before 9 a.m. last June 15, Worcester Central received a 911 call reporting the discovery of the body of a deceased woman in an embankment off Swamp Rd., a dirt road east of Nelson Rd. near Whaleyville.

DNA evidence gathered by crime scene technicians from the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division ultimately connected Burton to the crime. An autopsy conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore determined Bennett was murdered and had been asphyxiated. Autopsy evidence also indicated Bennett was already dead when her body was left in the embankment off the dirt road in Whaleyville. Only after the grand jury indictment in Worcester County last August did it come to light she had also been allegedly sexually assaulted and raped by the suspect.

After the investigation and DNA evidence connected Burton to Bennett’s murder, detectives consulted with the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office and a warrant for his arrest was obtained. Around 7:15 p.m. on July 7, the U.S. Marshal’s Task Force, a warrant apprehension team, located Burton driving on Route 1 near Rehoboth Beach. Burton was apprehended on a subsequent traffic stop and was taken into custody. He was eventually extradicted to Worcester from Sussex County. Burton’s trial has been tentatively set in for five days beginning June 10, and it appears with the death penalty no longer an option in Maryland, prosecutors will seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.