SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 10 years came and went before law enforcers made the link they needed to file a criminal charge in the stabbing death of bookstore owner Sherry Black. Earlier this month, they found an Orem man’s fingerprints and DNA matched those left at the scene.

A forensic tool called phenotyping, which uses genetic information to predict a person’s appearance, was “critical” in leading investigators to 29-year-old Adam Durborow, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Monday.

Moments earlier, Gill’s office charged Durborow with aggravated murder, a first-degree felony and capital offense, although Gill said it’s too early to say whether he will seek the death penalty.

Investigators trailed Durborow to a public place, Gill said, and secretly collected biological matter he left behind, such as skin or saliva. But Gill declined to say how exactly the technology helped detectives zero in on Durborow or whether they have identified a motive.

This undated image provided courtesy of the Black family shows Sherry Black, the mother-in-law of Utah Jazz executive Greg Miller, who was found stabbed to death Tuesday Nov. 30, 2010 in a book shop in South Salt Lake, Utah. (AP Photo/courtesy of Black family ) ** NO SALES **
Sherry Black | Black family photo

He attributed the break in the case to dogged police work, saying people unfairly questioned the integrity of investigators over the years.

On Nov. 20, 2010, Black, 64, was killed inside B&W Billiards and Books, the shop she owned with her husband, Earl Black, at 3466 S. 700 East in South Salt Lake. Court records show Durborow, who was 19 at the time, regularly stayed at his mother’s home, just a mile away from the bookstore, police said.

Gill revealed for the first time Monday that Black sustained injuries of a sexual nature at the time of her death, although Durborow has not been charged with any sex crimes based on that evidence. His DNA was found not just at the scene but on her body, Gill said.

Durborow’s family members have said they are “devastated” by his arrest but also expressed sympathy for Black’s family, which held onto hope her killer would be brought to justice.

An investigator walks through the crime scene tape where a 64-year-old woman was found stabbed to death inside the business B & W Billiards and Books on 3466 S. 700 East Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010, in South Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)
An investigator walks through crime scene tape where Sherry Black, 64, was found stabbed to death inside B&W Billiards and Books, 3466 S. 700 East, on Nov. 30, 2010 in South Salt Lake. | Tom Smart, Deseret News

Black’s daughter, Heidi Miller, and her husband, Greg, thanked investigators, the public and Utah’s news media in a statement on behalf of their family. Greg Miller is the former CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group that includes the Utah Jazz, car dealerships and entertainment companies.

“We are grateful to the South Salt Lake Police Department, the Unified Police Department and detective Ben Pender, and the Utah State Crime Lab and Jay Henry, for their ongoing investigative work and diligence that led to an arrest and charges in the murder of Sherry Black,” the family said. “While this 10-year period has been difficult, we have been able to feel peace and comfort knowing other cases are being solved with the use of new forensic tools.” 

A foundation in Black’s name helps law enforcers learn from experts about the latest investigative techniques.

Investigators collected the new DNA from Durborow Oct. 7 and the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services found a match, according to police. Durborow confessed to the homicide after he was notified of his Miranda rights, a police affidavit states.

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For several years after Black’s death, police said, DNA testing confirmed the blood came from a male suspect but failed to match any genetic information in a national criminal database.

South Salt Lake Police Chief Jack Carruth, who was a captain in the department at the time of Black’s death, remembers rushing to the scene the afternoon Black’s husband, Earl Black, found her deceased in their shop.

Carruth recalled that several investigators refused to go home and get some sleep that day, staying there instead to comb over evidence. Detectives’ frustration mounted over the years as they followed leads only to hit dead ends, he said. They began focusing more and more on DNA as a tool to solve the crime.

“I’m extremely happy, somewhat relieved,” he said after the news conference Monday.

Carruth’s agency tapped Unified police for help in the case in 2013, and Unified took over as the lead agency in 2018.

Court documents show that Durborow pleaded guilty to class B misdemeanor shoplifting charges just weeks before Black’s death and again in early 2011 a few months after the murder. Utah requires DNA collections for those convicted of felony crimes and class A misdemeanors.

In May 2006 in Davis County, Durborow, then 14, was convicted of attempted rape and aggravated assault in the juvenile justice system. A judge ordered him to provide a DNA sample in that case, but it remains unclear whether the DNA was collected or whether it remained on file at the time of Black’s death, when Durborow was 19.

Gill said Monday he felt confident detectives turned over every stone.

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“I can assure you that had any other information been available, the detectives would have found that,” he said.

In 2017, investigators put their evidence through the DNA phenotyping process using the Virginia-based company Parabon-Nanolabs.

Researchers put together three snapshot composites of the person who may have killed Black based on the genetic composition of the DNA sample, revealing what the man may have looked like at ages 25, 38 and 52. The process established a “familial genealogy tree” that investigators used to whittle potential suspects down to just one, Gill said.

Correction: A prior version said only felony convictions require DNA collection in Utah. In fact, class A misdemeanors also carry the requirement.

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