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Sex offender gets prison for sexually assaulting multiple girls | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey


IDAHO FALLS – A 55-year-old man was sentenced to prison on Monday after being accused of sexually assaulting multiple young girls decades ago.

Mark Lloyd Gardner was sentenced for two counts of felony injury to a child. District Judge Dane Watkins Jr. sentenced him to a minimum of three and up to a maximum of 10 years for each count, with both sentences to be run consecutively.

This means Gardner will serve at least six years and a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Gardner was initially charged with two counts of felony injury to a child and one felony count of lewd conduct with a child under 16.

As part of a plea agreement, Gardner elected to take an Alford plea to the two felony injury to a child charges, and the prosecution agreed to dismiss the felony charge of lewd conduct with a child under 16.

An Alford plea means that Gardner agrees to plead guilty but does not officially admit guilt. It also means that Gardner acknowledges that a jury would likely find him guilty with the evidence presented.

RELATED | Registered sex offender charged with decades old allegations of sex abuse

The hearing was tense as the court heard two victim impact statements over Zoom.

The first victim noted she was told on Monday morning that Gardner’s lawyers would be asking for probation.

“I just want to point out that while he was on probation after his last charges, he still continued to assault (another victim) and I, even while on probation and sober,” said the victim. “Clearly, being on probation and being sober doesn’t make much of a difference to us.”

The victim continued by addressing Gardner and the hurt he caused the victims, calling him a ‘monster’ and saying that he was dead to her, while Gardner often rubbed his eyes and looked away from the Zoom screen in the courtroom.

“You were the monster who came in the night and stole my innocence. You manipulated me and scared me into silence, but not anymore and never again,” said the victim. “I am stubborn. I know I am right and I have found my strength. I am telling you today, I am not afraid of you. I will fight every single day for the rest of my life, to keep you from hurting another little girl the way you hurt me.”

The second victim also appeared via Zoom, addressing the court to address Gardner’s apparent accusations that the victims have a “vendetta” against him.

“I would never voluntarily go through this, ever in my life. It has been the worst experience of my life, outside of the night that he entered my bedroom,” said the victim. “We have been drug through the mud for the past two years with the constant unknown. In and out, new prosecutors assigned, no progress, having these looming court dates that are constantly changed, this is not something that we chose to go through.”

The victim continued by addressing Gardner directly, telling him that she would not explain the details of the abuse to deprive him of the “satisfaction.”

“You have to give him jail time. Probation is not going to be the answer, and it certainly isn’t justice to (another victim) and I,” said the victim. “This whole process has been so unfair, and we didn’t bring this upon ourselves. We didn’t choose to have you do this to us.”

At one point during the sentencing, Gardner’s current girlfriend of two years spoke as a character witness, saying that Gardner has never lied to her and that he has a strong support system.

Bonneville County Prosecutor Randy Neal then argued that Gardner should receive seven years fixed and three years indeterminate in prison for each count.

“This is certainly a prison case because it involves such a serious crime,” said Neal. “It appears that Mr. Gardner had no boundaries when it came to the lust that was demonstrated by these acts.”

Gardner’s defense attorney, Paul Ziel, argued for probation and a suspended sentence of two and a half years for each count to be run consecutively, with a maximum of 5 years in prison.

“I think it’s important to peel the curtain back a little bit and let the court know that Mr. Gardner’s driving force is wanting to spare his family what a trial would bring. He said over and over again, this is about healing,” said Ziel. “I want the court to know that this was a try-able case and I’m going to leave it at that, because I think anything else would be hurtful. Yet, Mr. Gardner chose healing.”

Gardner gave the court a very brief statement, telling the judge that the last two years have been hard on him.

“Through this whole thing, I have felt remorse that this even had to come about. For whatever reason it came up, it’s been a very painful thing for everybody involved, anybody that knows me, my family,” said Gardner. “It’s been a really painful journey these last two years. I would just love to be able to make it better, to try and reduce the pain anyway I can.”

Watkins provided some insight into the reasoning behind the sentencing, pointing out the emotion in the courtroom, the anger he saw during the victim impact statements and the fact that Gardner has not taken responsibility for the allegations.

“One of the things that struck me, and I appreciate the things we’ve heard from all that have spoken. Certainly those two that have been affected, demonstrate poise to come and make their statement,” said Watkins. “The court notes the anguish that exists and the disruption in their lives. The courage it takes to put in motion these things that we’re addressing today.”

Watkins ended his statements by acknowledging the victims’ pain and recounting the importance of accountability.

“Today marks a chapter that closes. A new chapter begins. You are here to be accountable,” said Watkins. “The pain that the court sees is real. In fact, words can’t begin to effectively describe what that really feels like, other than to know if affects one’s life forever. Can you heal from it? Yes. But it’s painful. And the acts in this case are deeply troubling.”

Background of the case

In July 2021, Gardner was charged after two victims came forward with allegations of sexual abuse from him when they were minors.

Many of the court records in this case have since been sealed to the public, but were initially available in 2021 when EastIdahoNews.com first reported on the case.

In those documents, one victim stated that Gardner sexually abused her numerous times between 1992 to 2001. The victim confronted Gardner in a phone call, and he reportedly told the victim it was not an appropriate time to talk about the alleged abuse.

A second victim came forward and said Gardner molested her in 2007. A witness told police they remembered the victim coming to them crying and saying Gardner assaulted her.

Gardner denied touching both victims, according to court documents.

Court records show Gardner was also convicted in 2001 for felony lewd conduct. He was placed on probation until 2010 but had to register and maintain his status as a sex offender.

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