Suit: Pastor gave sex offender time to kill

Matthew Burton
Matthew Burton
Posted: April 26, 2013

A Delaware pastor is accused of contributing to a woman's death by allowing a violent sex offender to temporarily keep his church job, according to a civil suit.

According to the suit filed by the woman's husband last week, Pastor Danny Tice of the Bay Shore Community Church in Millsboro learned that his janitor was on probation for multiple sex crimes.

But instead of firing Matthew Burton, Tice gave him two weeks to find another job.

Burton's last day was June 14, 2012.

It was also the day Nicole Bennett, mother of three young daughters and the director of the church day-care, disappeared.

A hiker found Bennett's body the next morning along a dirt road just over the Maryland state line.

She had been raped and strangled, police said.

In his wrongful death suit, Kevin Bennett says Tice is at fault because he never alerted his wife that Burton had a violent criminal history.

"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 states. The Bennett family is represented by Wilmington attorney Bart Dalton.

Nicole Bennett, 35, was devoted to her family and her church. On June 14, she called home to let them know she would be working late at the church to finish up a day-care mailing. She was left alone with Burton.

Two weeks before, according to the suit, Tice learned that Burton had been previously charged in 2004 with 12 counts of rape in multiple sex assaults on a child. Burton ended up pleading guilty to related misdemeanor charges and was released on probation. But Burton, according to a statement put out by the church, did not initially disclose that information to Tice.

It's unclear what happened the night Nicole Bennett was slain. Police found her minivan at the church. But on July 16, police arrested the 28-year-old Burton on the basis of DNA evidence.

In August, a grand jury in Maryland indicted Burton on charges of first and second-degree murder, rape in the first degree, rape in the second degree, sex offense in the fourth degree, kidnapping and assault in the first degree.

Burton remains in a Maryland prison where he is awaiting trial.


Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 215-854-2796, @samwoodiii or samwood@phillynews.com.

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