Sentencing reset to June for Manchester man convicted of killing Michelle Martinko

Jerry Burns faces life in prison for 1979 slaying in Cedar Rapids

Jerry Burn walks to his seat after a recess Feb. 14 during his trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport. On Feb
Jerry Burn walks to his seat after a recess Feb. 14 during his trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport. On Feb. 24, he was convicted of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Michelle Martinko in Cedar Rapids in 1979. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Sentencing for a Manchester man convicted last month for killing 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in 1979 has been delayed again, this time because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Fae Hoover on Wednesday reset sentencing for Jerry Burns, 66, to June 19 in Linn County District Court.

The sentencing previously was set for April 17 before the Iowa Supreme Court ordered all trials would be reset to after April 20, and that in sentencings a prosecutor, defense lawyer or defendant could request to appear remotely.

The judge’s order for the reset sentencing date doesn’t state why this sentencing was continued. During the COVID-19 crisis, judges will have discretion to continue court proceedings, according to the Chief Justice Susan Christensen’s orders.

A Scott County jury deliberated less than three hours Feb. 24 to find Burns guilty of first-degree murder. The trial was moved because of pretrial publicity. Burns faces life in prison without parole.

Martinko was found dead in her parents’ Buick, which was parked near J.C. Penney at Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids. She went to the mall to get a coat her mother had put on layaway.

According to testimony, the teen was stabbed 29 times. A pathologist said the fatal stab wound was to the sternum, which penetrated her aorta, and she bled to death.


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. Burns was arrested Dec. 19, 2018 — on the 39th anniversary of her death.

Testimony showed Burns was the major contributor of the profile — less than one out of 100 billion of unrelated individuals would have the same profile, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation criminalists said.

Leon Spies of Iowa City, Burns’ attorney, attempted to put doubts in the jurors’ minds about how evidence was handled over the years.

In his closing, he argued Burns never admitted to anything and told investigators he didn’t know Martinko or how his DNA could be at the crime scene. Spies said the evidence was lacking and the prosecutor failed to prove Burns was the killer.

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

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