Burton extradition hearing set Aug. 6

Expert: Victim in wrong place at wrong time
August 4, 2012
Nicole Bennett, shown here in 2010, was found lying on an embankment on Swamp Road outside Whaleyville, Md. The man charged with her murder, Matthew N. Burton, will face an extradition hearing Aug. 6. SOURCE FILE

An extradition hearing for Matthew N. Burton, 28, of Dagsboro is set for Monday, Aug. 6, in Georgetown. Burton is charged with first- and second-degree murder in the death of Delaware resident Nicole Reiser Bennett, whose body was discovered in Maryland.

Police have not yet revealed where they believe the murder took place, but Maryland State Police seek to extradite Burton to Worcester County to stand trial for the murder of the 35-year-old mother of three from Long Neck. Burton, who was arrested near Rehoboth Beach, is being held in Sussex Correctional Institution pending the Aug. 6 hearing.

While investigating Bennett's murder, Maryland State Police Detective Sgt. Steve Hall said he believes Burton attacked Bennett as a crime of opportunity.

Dr. Michael Bourke, chief psychologist for the behavioral analysis group of the U.S. Marshals Service, said crimes of opportunity can range from shoplifting to sexual crimes and even murder.

“This type of person has a strong urge to offend, but this is not the kind of person that spends hours and hours online or stalking a particular victim,” Bourke said. “This person walks around like a Coke can that has been shaken and put in the sun, just waiting for someone to open the tab.”

Bourke said opportunistic criminals are waiting for the right outlet to present itself. “For this type of criminal, the opportunity is there, so the person does the crime,” Bourke said. “This type of offender is labeled as opportunistic, which is different from an offender who is preferential.”

Bourke reviewed Nicole Bennett case files and offered general insight on the mind of a opportunistic criminal.

“In this case, the opportunistic offender operates on a pleasure principle, meaning that anything that feels good is OK,” Bourke said. “The victim is just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Investigators said Bennett was at Bay Shore Community Church in Millsboro the night of June 14. Burton was also working that night, providing janitorial services.

Burton faced earlier charges

The murder charge is not Burton's first brush with the law.

In 2001 he was charged with criminal mischief and conspiracy. Then, in 2004 he was charged with endangering the welfare of a child.

Court documents from Burton’s previous cases show police considered the 2004 incident a crime of opportunity.

Court documents in the 2004 case show Burton was babysitting two girls before the girls entered second grade.

During three or more incidents, court records state Burton touched the girls inappropriately, both over and under clothing. Records also state Burton exposed himself to the girls. Most of the incidents took place on Lynch Road outside Millsboro where the girls were staying at a family member's home.

According to charging documents, one of the victims is a member of  Burton's extended family. The documents also state during 2003, Burton watched the girls on at least 20 occasions.

“Some sexual deviants are opportunistic in that they are waiting for the right opportunity to present itself, and when it does, they attack,” Bourke said. “In my research, 60 percent of opportunistic criminals are nonpreferential, meaning they cross age barriers and gender.”

In charging documents from 2004, Delaware State Police Detective Laurence D. Corrigan writes that because Burton was related to the victims, the police coordinated a family meeting. Matthew Burton told the family at the time that he would seek counseling, the documents state.

Burton reached a plea agreement with Superior Court and served one year of probation. He agreed to have no contact with either of the girls, and he agreed to be listed on the state’s sex offender registry as a Tier-1 sex offender. Tier 1 or low-risk offenders do not appear on Delaware’s online sex offender registry.

Jill C. Green served as Burton’s probation officer starting in December 2004. In her report, included with court documents, she listed Burton as having stable employment and no problems with his attitude or compliance with the conditions of his probation.

Court records show an Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest, a screening tool developed to assess an individual's interest in deviant sexual behavior,  was administered to Burton in June 2005. The evaluation concluded that "there was no indication of inappropriate fantasies or intended actions," writes Green in her report. “Despite all this, he still denies his crime. This may mean that he did act out sexually but that it was opportunistic and not due to his general arousal patterns.”

Bennett at work late

Bennett rented a home in the Peninsula at Long Neck with her husband of 15 years, Kevin, and their three young daughters.

On June 14, she stayed home to take care of her 15-month-old, who was sick. During the early evening, Bennett decided to go in to work at Bay Shore Community Church outside Gumboro to catch up on work she missed during the day.

Also working at the church that night was Burton, a part-time custodian. Police said forensic evidence links Burton to the murder. Bennett's body was discovered June 15 off Swamp Road, a rural road outside Whaleyville, Md., a few miles from the church.

Hall said the three-week police investigation into Bennett's murder turned up no connections between Burton and Bennett, who worked in the church’s nursery.

"This was a good Christian woman, a wife and a mother," said Hall. "He wasn't stalking her. He wasn't following her. We didn't find any relationship between the two, except he was a custodian and she worked there."

Burton was arrested at 7:15 p.m. July 6 outside Rehoboth Beach.

A U.S. Marshals warrant apprehension team placed Burton under surveillance during the day July 6, Hall said. Police wanted to keep an eye on him that day, Hall said, because they expected a report on DNA evidence to link Burton to Bennett's death.

When DNA found on Bennett's body was found to be a match for Burton, Hall said, police immediately sought a warrant.

An autopsy conducted at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore determined Bennett was murdered and had been asphyxiated. Autopsy evidence also indicated she was already dead when her body was left on the roadside embankment.

Burton's attorney, John Garey of Dover, has not returned calls for comment on the hearing.

To donate to the Bennett family, send a check to Nicole Reiser Bennett Memorial Fund, WSFS Bank, Millsboro Branch, 26644 Center View Drive, Millsboro, DE 19966.