Five years after he raped and killed Nicole Bennett before dumping her body off a dirt road near the Maryland-Delaware border, Matthew Burton took only five seconds to put his case to rest.
“Did you rape and murder Nicole Bennett?” asked Delaware Superior Court Judge E. Scott Bradley.
“Yes,” Burton answered.
Burton, 33, pleaded guilty April 5 to second-degree murder and second-degree rape in the slaying of Bennett in 2012. At the the recommendation of state prosecutors, Burton was sentenced to 15 years for the murder and 15 years for rape for a total of 30 years behind bars, with credit for time served. After serving his sentence, Burton will have 20 years, combined, of probation and will have to register as a sex offender.
Bennett’s family, represented by her husband, Kevin, and his parents Bob and Mary, were bitterly disappointed by the plea and by Burton’s sentence.
“I just don’t think this is justice,” Bob Bennett said. “He’s shown no signs of remorse. We’re not satisfied, but it’s out of our hands. We understand it’s not our call.”
Carl Kanefsky, spokesman for the Delaware Department of Justice, said, “This was a difficult case, and it was considered by the most senior homicide prosecutors in the entire state, who reviewed all of the evidentiary and jurisdictional issues that would be presented in a trial and determined that this was an appropriate result.”
Efforts to reach Attorney General Matt Denn and prosecutors who reviewed the evidence were unsuccessful.
Speaking outside Sussex County courthouse, Kevin Bennett said while it was difficult for him to be in the same room with Burton, he did not think Burton would admit to his crimes. The plea agreement means a lengthy trial was avoided, Kevin Bennett said, but he did not think Burton’s sentence was long enough.
Bob Bennett said the family is concerned for whenever Burton gets out of prison and that Kevin and Nicole’s three daughters are fearful their mother’s killer would one day go free. He said he hopes Burton will serve his time outside Sussex County.
Nicole Bennett was found dead June 2012 on an embankment off Swamp Road in Worcester County. Police say Burton, who had a history as a sex offender, was working as a custodian at Bayshore Community Church in Gumboro, where Bennett also worked. When Bennett was reported missing after not returning home from work, Burton was determined to be the last person to see her alive. Police investigators said Burton had raped and then asphyxiated Bennett before dumping her body near Whaleyville, Md.
While the Bennetts and Nicole’s family were disappointed with Burton’s plea and the sentence, they said they were thankful for the community’s support over the past five years.
“We’ll be fine,” Bob Bennett said. “We’ll be fine.”