Accused murderer Matthew Burton has exhausted his appeals in Maryland and has been extradited to Delaware, paving the way for him to stand trial for the 2012 slaying of Nicole Bennett.
Carl Kanefsky, spokesman for the Department of Justice, said Burton is being held at Sussex Correctional Institution. Attorney Dean Johnson of the Delaware Public Defender’s Office has been assigned to represent Burton.
Jurisdiction in the case became an issue because Bennett's body was found off a rural road in Worcester County, Md., but Delaware and Maryland State Police later determined the crime took place in Sussex County.
Bennett's father-in-law, Bob Bennett, said, "We're thankful it is finally moving forward. It's been two-and-a-half years. We just want justice."
Then-Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed Burton’s extradition back to Delaware in Oct. 2013; Maryland withdrew charges against Burton, who will be charged in Delaware with first-degree murder and failure to reregister as a sex offender.
Burton has been fighting extradition, arguing that Burton should be tried in Maryland because of an error in the extradition paperwork that stated he was in Wicomico County instead of Worcester County and that the request failed to identify Burton as the person to be extradited. Attorneys also argued extradition would deny Burton constitutional due process because he could face the death penalty in Delaware, while in Maryland, if found guilty, the worst penalty Burton could receive is life in prison.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals dismissed these arguments and affirmed the lower Circuit Court for Worcester County's decision, allowing extradition. The appeals court also stayed his extradition until his Maryland appeals were exhausted. Burton continued to appeal his extradition, but his attempt to be heard by the Maryland Court of Appeals was denied.
Rob Robinson, head of the Sussex County public defender’s office, said the slowness with which the case has proceeded has more to do with the speed of Maryland’s appellate process and not anything to do with the substance of the case.
Bennett, a 35-year-old mother of three, was found dead on an embankment off of Swamp Road, Worcester County, on June 15, 2012. An autopsy by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore determined she had been asphyxiated. Her husband, Kevin, reported her missing when she did not come home from Bay Shore Community Church in Gumboro, where she had worked late on the evening of June 14, 2012. Burton worked as custodian at the church.
Bob Bennett said Bennett's daughters – ages 13, 8 and 3 – have all been in counseling and are doing as well as they can be. He said Bennett's three-year-old daughter sometimes sees a woman with long brown hair and thinks it is her mom.
"Christmas was tough this year," Bob Bennett said. "I just want it to be over with, for the girls."
The Bennett family has filed a wrongful death suit against the church for employing Burton, who had a history as a sex offender.
Police found Bennett's car parked at the church, locked with her personal belongings inside; police later learned Burton was also at the church while she was there. Bennett’s body was found six miles from the church, but DNA evidence gathered by Maryland State forensic technicians connected Burton to the crime. A U.S. Marshal's Task Force arrested Burton July 6, 2012, following a traffic stop on Route 1 near Rehoboth Beach.