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Jerry Burns in 2018 didn't answer questions about Michelle Martinko's slaying

Investigator said he never denies it, either

Defendant Jerry Burns looks toward the jury while a witness testifies Feb. 12 during his trial at the Scott County Court
Defendant Jerry Burns looks toward the jury while a witness testifies Feb. 12 during his trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport. Burns, 66, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Michelle Martinko, 18, of Cedar Rapids, in December 1979. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

DAVENPORT — After his arrest, a Manchester man accused of killing Michelle Martinko ignored questions from a Cedar Rapids police investigator as to what happened when the 18-year-old was stabbed 29 times and bled to death in her parents’ Buick on Dec. 19, 1979.

Jerry Burns, now 66, in a car ride from Manchester to the Cedar Rapids Police Department after his arrest in 2018, seemed to change the subject when investigator Matthew Denlinger asked, “What happened that night?”

A video from the squad car shows Burns, who was handcuffed and sitting in the back seat next to Denlinger, at first seemed to ignore him and then started talking about his cousin, Brian Burns, 55, who had a disability and went missing Dec. 19, 2013, from his Delaware County home.

Burns said he thought maybe his cousin had left town with someone or that whoever Brian went with to Las Vegas, as he was known to do, may have harmed him.

Denlinger, in attempt to evoke a response, said, “It’s a shame about what happened.”

Burns, in the video, replied that he needed medication for his eyes — he has glaucoma — and wondered how to get it in jail.

The prosecution rested Wednesday after Denlinger, lead investigator on the case, testified for the third time during the six days of testimony. The defense will start its case Thursday.

Burns, charged with first-degree murder, is accused of fatally stabbing Martinko in the car that was parked behind J.C. Penney at Westdale Mall in southwest Cedar Rapids. Her body was found by police Dec. 20, 1979.

The fatal stab wound was to the sternum, which penetrated her aorta, and she bled to death, a pathologist testified last week.

A public genealogy database, GEDmatch, helped authorities identify Burns as a match to the DNA found on the back of Martinko’s black dress and car gearshift. During testimony Monday, a DNA expert said fewer than one in 100 billion unrelated individuals would have the same genetic profile found on the dress.

‘Help me understand this’

In the video, Denlinger, the investigator, again is seen asking Burns what happened to Martinko.

Burns then said he wondered "if it’s possible to block out” something like that.

Denlinger thought he said “black out” but Burns corrected him — “block out.”

The video sound was difficult to hear in the courtroom as there was background noise from the road and from another officer, who was driving and talking to dispatchers over the radio during portions of it.

There also were long periods of silence. The defense asked the court to require the prosecution to play the entire video, including moments the men didn't talk.

“Help me understand this,” Denlinger asked a short time later.

“I don’t know,” Burns said. He then asked, “What’s going on?”

Denlinger asked if he understood being arrested for Martinko’s death. Burns said he did.

Burns also mentioned he had a dentist appointment and almost seems to joke about “will they make a house call.”

First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks, after the video played, asked Denlinger if Burns gave any explanation of what happened. Denlinger replied Burns offered nothing beside the “blocking out” comment.

Later at the police department, he asked Burns about what he meant about the comment.

“There’s some traumatic things that people block out,” Burns said.

Maybanks asked if Burns ever denied killing Martinko or that police had wrong person. Denlinger said no.

Leon Spies, Burns’ attorney, asked on cross-examination if Burns had said he didn’t know what was going on. Denlinger said that was correct.

When asked what happened, Burns brought up his cousin, Spies said. Denlinger said he changed the subject, but Spies said that was for a jury to evaluate.

Denlinger replied he was giving his opinion.

Signing The Gazette

Also on Wednesday, Linn County Sheriff’s Lt. Kent Steenblock confirmed some testimony by a federal inmate, who shared a living unit with Burns at the jail.

Michael Allison, 53, testified Tuesday that Burns signed his autograph on a photo of himself that was printed in The Gazette on Jan. 11. The photo was taken during a suppression hearing.

The video captured by a surveillance camera inside the jail, played for the jury Wednesday, showed Allison giving Burns The Gazette and Burns writing something on it.

A photo of the autographed paper was shown to the jury during Allison’s testimony Tuesday.

The prosecution asked Steenblock to compare a court document signed by Burns with the signature on the paper to make a comparison.

The signatures looked similar when shown to the jury Wednesday.

Steenblock also confirmed Allison and Burns were housed in the same living unit from September 2019 through January of this year.

Allison is charged in U.S. District Court with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

Gazette reporter Trish Mehaffey continues her coverage from the courtroom 9 a.m. Thursday. Followers can ask questions or provide comments.

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

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