Murder trial delay likely in cold case of Michelle Martinko

Defense, still receiving evidence, says it needs time to prepare

Jerry Burns
Jerry Burns

CEDAR RAPIDS — The trial for a Manchester man accused of fatally stabbing 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in 1979 likely will be postponed because the defense may need additional technical information and expert witnesses to prepare for the trial.

Leon Spies, defense attorney for Jerry L. Burns, 64, charged with first-degree murder, in his motion Friday for the delay said the prosecution of Burns has been a “lengthy and complex investigation” that has included uncommon investigative and forensic measures, such as the genetic genealogy that cracked this 39-year-old cold case.

Just last month, Spies said he received additional testimony that includes expert witnesses and forensic evidence from the prosecution.

Spies said the information needed can’t “reasonably” be gathered in enough time before the current trial date of Oct. 14 to be evaluated.

First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said he had no issue with the delay.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Fae Hoover-Grinde had not, as of Monday, set a hearing to discuss trial dates or approve the delay.

Trials involving serious felonies that are reset — provided a defendant waives a 90-day speedy trial right — face a delay of several months. Judges also try to avoid setting these trials around the holidays.

A search warrant obtained in February by The Gazette laid out how genetic genealogy shared on a public website led investigators to arrest Burns Dec. 19, 2018.

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DNA from two distant cousins, when compared with DNA from the 1979 crime scene, led to Burns and his two brothers as possible matches. His brothers were eliminated. But Burns’ DNA — covertly collected from a soda straw in October 2018 — was a match, court documents show.

The probability of finding Burns’ DNA profile among unrelated individuals would be less than 1 in 100 billion, the documents show.

In another warrant from Dec. 19, investigators said Burns may have cut himself during the brutal attack.

A blood stain on the back of Martinko’s dress matched Burns’ DNA, so it’s “logical to assume” his blood got on her dress from being cut “while he was stabbing her,” Cedar Rapids police investigator Matthew Denlinger, wrote in the affidavit.

Parabon NanoLabs in Reston, Va., told investigators in May about GEDmatch, a public DNA database usually used to help research family trees. The DNA of the then-unknown suspect was uploaded. That revealed it shared DNA with a distant cousin, Brandy Jennings, 40, of Vancouver, Wash.

Jennings, a second cousin twice removed related to Burns through her paternal great-grandparents, told The Gazette in March she had forgotten about uploading her DNA to the database.

Jennings was mentioned in the Feb. 5 warrant but said she was never contacted by police. She said she doesn’t know Burns or any of his family members and has no ties to Iowa.

The February warrant also revealed that internet searches had been run on Burns’ office computer at Advanced Power Equipment and Coating Concepts, in Manchester, for “blonde females, assault, rape, strangulation, murder, abuse and rape of a deceased individual, and cannibalism.”

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In the warrant, Cedar Rapids police investigator Jeff Holst noted Martinko was blond, attacked, assaulted with a blunt object and stabbed about 21 times. She had defensive wounds consistent with fighting off her attacker before she died.

Burns, during a Dec. 19 interview with police, denied knowing Martinko or being at the crime scene.

Martinko was found stabbed to death in her family’s Buick on Dec. 19, 1979, in a parking lot of Westdale Mall. The Kennedy High School senior had left a school choir banquet that night and drove to the mall to buy a winter coat.

Burns has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and is jailed on a $5 million cash-only bail.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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