Defendants Seek Wrongful Death Suit Dismissal

Just days after the trial for accused murderer Matthew Burton was postponed, for yet a second time, the defendants in a separate civil suit filed against the church where the victim worked, as well as its pastor, filed a motion to dismiss.

In August 2012, 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, the 35-year-old mother of three, whose body was found on a roadside embankment in Whaleyville in Worcester County on the morning of June 15th last year. Burton was scheduled to stand trial in February, but the trial had already 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 although no action has been taken on the motion.

The victim’s husband, Kevin Bennett of Millsboro, and his family, filed a wrongful death suit on April 17th in Delaware Superior Court against the church and Tice, alleging the defendants were aware of Burton’s prior rape convictions and his violent past, 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, who was 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.

Once Tice and the church finally learned of Burton’s sexual predator past, they gave Burton two weeks to look for another job.  On the last day of his employment with the church, Nicole Bennett disappeared. Her body was found the very next day in northern Worcester County.

In the wrongful death suit, the victim’s husband contends Tice should be held partly responsible because he failed to warn Nicole, 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.

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 abandoned.

It only was brought to light that Bennett allegedly was sexually assaulted and raped by the suspect only after the grand jury indictment last August.

How could church officials have allowed Burton to continue to work at the church for two weeks following Bennett’s murder?

“They actually gave Burton two additional weeks of employment,” the complaint reads. “On the last day of those two additional weeks, Burton was left alone at night with Nicole Bennett. Nicole Bennett was unaware because of the actions and inactions of the defendants, that she was alone with a sex offender. Nicole Bennett was murdered that night.”

According to the complaint, Bennett and other employees at the church were never made aware of the dangerous predator working amongst them.

“At all relevant times, the defendants had actual knowledge of Burton’s violent history and nevertheless failed to warn Nicole Bennett about his dangerous propensities while simultaneously allowing Nicole Bennett to be left alone with Burton while both were engaged in their duties at Bay Shore,” the complaint reads. “All defendants are jointly and severally liable for the death of Nicole Bennett.”

Do you think the Pastor should be held accountable for Nicole Bennett’s murder? Or perhaps it is the responsibility of the church officials to have notified the employees of Burton’s violent past? After all, when church officials hired Burton to work as a custodian in the church, he was already a registered sex offender, charged with 22 felony counts of rape on a child. How can this have been allowed?  What do you think is a fair sentence?

Feel free to comment on this blog post. You can reach one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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