FARMINGTON — Nichole Eyre was 11 years old when an intruder slipped into her bedroom on a warm spring evening in Riverdale. He held a knife to her neck, covered her eyes with duct tape and drove her to an empty parking lot, where he attacked her in May of 1992.
Over more than two decades that followed, she lost hope little by little that police would ever track down the man whose DNA was found on her clothes but whose face she hadn’t seen.
On Monday, dogged cold-case detectives and advancements in DNA analysis and genealogy were credited with finally bringing her attacker to justice — not just for Eyre, but for what authorities say are a dozen other victims across northern Utah. Mark Douglas Burns, a long-haul truck driver from Ogden, was sentenced Monday in Farmington’s 2nd District Court to nearly 250 years in the Utah State Prison.
“None of us survivors have to look over our shoulder to wonder where he is. What is he doing? Is he behind me at the grocery store? He’s never going to haunt us again, and that is a wonderful feeling,” Eyre said outside the courtroom. “I just cannot believe how lucky he’s been. And I think it’s about time his luck ran out.”
Authorities said Burns slipped into homes through sliding doors, bound his victims and sometimes their family members, then raped the women multiple times. They said he threatened to slit their throats and forced them to perform sex acts.
Detectives reopened Eyre’s 1992 case in the wake of similar attacks but for a time lost the DNA evidence she had provided. As a child, she loved to sing and dance, and continued to perform in parades even as she battled anxiety and PTSD.
The trauma tore her family apart, her mother Connie Eyre wrote in a statement. As her daughter underwent several surgeries to heal from the brutal sexual assault and awaited results from rounds of HIV tests, their relationship crumbled. The Deseret News typically does not identify victims of sexual assaults, but Nichole Eyre agreed to use her maiden name.
The statute of limitation on her case and several others timed out under a prior version of Utah law, prosecutors said. Burns instead faced 17 felonies tied to more recent attacks in Clearfield dating to 2000 and 2001 — charges he admitted to last Month.
Judge John Morris ordered Burns, 69, to consecutive sentences totaling at least 242 years in prison, citing the “heinousness” of his crimes.
Morris ordered consecutive sentences of 16 years to life for each of eight counts of aggravated sexual assault and six counts of aggravated kidnapping; plus lesser terms of six years and up to life for counts of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery.
Just before the judge read his sentence, one of Burns’ victims called him a monster in court as she recalled the terror she felt as he attacked her repeatedly at knifepoint in her own home.
“Since that traumatic night, I have never again slept through the night,” she said, even with the help of medication. The woman said she has not trusted men enough to develop a romantic relationship after the nightmarish, hourslong attack.
“May you live in fear in your cage,” she told Burns. Other victims wrote letters to the court because they could not travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Burns, appearing over a video feed in a blue-striped uniform from the Davis County Jail, apologized in a voice thick with emotion. He said he has not committed any crimes since 2002 and began feeling shame and remorse after that.
“Show me no mercy,” he told the judge.
Deputy Davis County Attorney Ben Willoughby rejected his apology, saying his victims suffered for decades before his arrest.
“No rehabilitation can be achieved, only retribution,” Willoughby said. “Mark Burns cannot possibly live long enough to serve the sentence that he deserves.”
Developments in DNA analysis and technology led investigators to Burns last year. They say he had also victimized women in the 1990s in Clearfield, Layton and Ogden, as well as in two Wyoming towns, Rock Springs and Laramie.
Burns has been accused of killing a woman in that state. He is charged in the 2001 death of Sue Ellen Higgins, 28, who police said was killed in her home. He has not yet answered the charge in court there.
Prosecutors in Utah filed sexual assault charges against a John Doe in 2003 but could not link them to Burns until September after DNA evidence led them to a family member of his. That person told police Burns lived in Ogden and was still working as a long-haul trucker.
Police went through his trash and retrieved water and beer bottles, soda cans and a paper towel with a red stain. After DNA on those items matched that collected in sexual assault examinations of the Clearfield women, police arrested Burns in September.
Burns’ attorney, Colleen Coebergh, left the courtroom without comment.