Murder victim's family sues church, alleged killer

Civil trial set in September 2015
April 7, 2014
Accused murderer Matthew Burton is still fighting extradition from Maryland to Delaware to stand trial for the murder of Nicole Bennett in 2012. Meanwhile, Bennett's family is proceeding with its wrongful death lawsuit against Burton, the Rev. Danny Tice and BayShore Community Church in Millsboro. A trial date in the civil suit has been set for summer 2015. SOURCE FILE

A New Castle County judge has set a Sept. 9, 2015 trial date in the wrongful death civil suit brought by the family of murder victim Nicole Bennett against Bayshore Community Church and Bennett’s alleged killer, Matthew Burton.

Bennett’s family has accused the church and its pastor, the Rev. Danny Tice, of negligence in allowing Burton to be employed as a custodian knowing of his past as a sex offender. The suit also says once the church knew  Burton’s history, it terminated his employment but allowed him two extra weeks on the job, during which he is accused of murdering Bennett and dumping her body in Maryland.

The suit, filed by attorney Barthlomew Dalton on behalf of Bennett’s estate, said the church was negligent in allowing Burton to work at the church after learning his history as a sex offender.

“Nicole Bennett’s death was a direct and proximate result of this failure to act in the face of an obligation to do so, and instead Tice and Bayshore allowed Burton to continue his employment at Bayshore, and this failure led to Nicole Bennett’s death,” the suit says.

The church, represented by Wilmington attorney Kevin Connors, moved to dismiss the case, but New Castle County Judge Andrea Rocanelli denied the motion.

With the civil case headed for a trial, Connors filed a motion to stay discovery until after Burton’s criminal trial, but that was also denied by Rocanelli.

Dalton declined to comment on why the Bennett estate decided to move forward with the civil case before conclusion of a criminal trial. Connors could not be reached for comment.

Department of Justice spokesman Jason Miller said Burton is still being held in Maryland. Burton filed a writ of habeas corpus challenging his extradition to Delaware, which was denied.  Burton's extradition to Maryland was signed by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, according to court documents, but under Maryland law, Burton has a right of appeal to the Maryland court of special appeals.

Of note, if tried in Maryland, Burton would not face the death penalty; O’Malley signed a repeal of the state’s death penalty in May 2013. However, Delaware does allow the death penalty for first-degree murder, which Burton is accused of.