Family, Church Settle Wrongful Death Lawsuit For $500K

BERLIN — The family of a Delaware woman was awarded a $500,000 settlement in a wrongful death suit against the church in Millsboro where she worked on the night she was murdered.

Shortly after 9 a.m. on June 15, 2012, Worcester Central received a 911 call reporting the discovery of the body of a deceased woman, later identified as Nicole Bennett, 35, of Millsboro, in an embankment off Swamp Rd., a dirt road in Whaleyville. Detectives used DNA evidence collected at the scene to connect Matthew Burton, now 38, of Dagsboro, to the crime.

Burton, a registered Tier I sex offender in Delaware, worked as a custodian at the Bayshore Community Church in Millsboro, where Bennett also worked and was last seen alive the night before her body was discovered along a rural road in Worcester County. After consulting with the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office, detectives were able to obtain a warrant for Bennett and the U.S. Marshals Task Force located the suspect nearly two weeks later driving on Route 1 near Rehoboth and took him into custody.

Burton was charged initially with first-degree murder and first-degree rape in Worcester because the victim was found along a rural road in the county. However, he was later charged in Sussex County after investigators determined the crime actually occurred in Delaware and Bennett’s body was merely dumped in Worcester. After a lengthy appeal process, Burton was ultimately extradited to Sussex County in February and is expected to appear for trial in June 2016, or roughly a year away.

Meanwhile, proceeding on a parallel course during the lengthy extradition process was the wrongful death civil suit filed by the victim’s family in Delaware Superior Court against the Millsboro church where she worked, the church’s pastor and Burton, alleging the defendants were aware of Burton’s prior rape convictions and violent past and allowed him to work alone at the church with Bennett on the night she was murdered.

According to the wrongful death suit, the church’s pastor Danny Tice learned Burton was a registered sex offender 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 had reached a plea deal in those cases, which required him to register as a sex offender in Delaware prior to his employment as a custodian at the Bayshore Community Church in Millsboro.

Last week, a Delaware Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the victim’s family in the wrongful death civil suit against the church, its pastor and Burton and awarded the plaintiffs $500,000 in damages. The settlement awards $25,000 each to the victim’s three children, ages 13, eight and three, along with $392,000 to the victim’s husband, of which $130,000 in legal fees will be subtracted. The settlement also includes $33,000 to waive a worker’s compensation claim.

Burton is tentatively scheduled to appear for criminal trial in June 2016.