Public Safety

Cedar Rapids and Iowa City investigators, Linn County prosecutors receive awards for work on Michelle Martinko cold case, sex trafficking ring

Cedar Rapids Police Department investigator Matt Denlinger in the crime lab at the department's headquarters in southwes
Cedar Rapids Police Department investigator Matt Denlinger in the crime lab at the department’s headquarters in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, March 5, 2020. Denlinger was the lead investigator in the Michelle Martinko murder cold case. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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In honor of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, a Cedar Rapids police investigator and Linn County prosecution team, and the Iowa City Human Trafficking Task Force, were given special awards Tuesday for their work on a decades-old cold case murder and a sex trafficking ring.

U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan of the Northern District of Iowa and U.S. Attorney Marc Krickbaum of the Southern District of Iowa announced the awards, which are based on service to victims.

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which started Sunday, celebrates victims’ rights, protections and services.

Cedar Rapids police Investigator Matthew Denlinger was presented with the Law Enforcement Victim Services Award. This is the highest federal honor given to law enforcement officers who go beyond the call of duty to help victims.

“Investigator Denlinger showed dedication to victims while investigating the 1979 fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In addition to completing an exhaustive investigation, he showed “great compassion for the victim’s family, ensuring they never lost hope that the guilty party would be brought to justice.”

Jerry Burns, 66, of Manchester, was convicted in February of first-degree murder in the case and faces life in prison without parole.

Martinko was found dead in her parents’ Buick parked outside the Westdale Mall. She went to the mall Dec. 19, 1979, to get a coat her mother had put on layaway.

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A public genealogy database, GEDmatch, helped authorities identify Burns as a match to a DNA profile developed from blood found on the back of Martinko’s dress and car gearshift.

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

Denlinger, after learning about the award, said he was honored because it is reflection of the hard work and determination of Cedar Rapids officers who worked on the case over the last 40 years.

“Our mission was always to get justice for Michelle and answers for her family,” Denlinger said. “We were never able to provide those answers to her parents, but I did develop a personal relationship with Michelle’s sister, Janelle and her husband, John Stonebraker. Janelle and John became my driving force that helped me see this case through.”

The Award for Excellence in Victim Services was presented to First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks, assistant county attorney Michael Harris and Anastasia Basquin, chief liaison and community outreach specialist with the office.

Deegan, in a statement, said Denlinger and the prosecution team brought justice to Martinko and her family after so many years.

“In doing so, they demonstrated they are true public servants and steadfast champions for victims of violent crime,” Deegan said.

The prosecutors and Basquin, in a statement, said that “being entrusted by Michelle’s family and friends to obtain long delayed justice for them and this community has been an immense honor and privilege. The Cedar Rapids Police Department did a phenomenal job investigating this case. Our team tried our hardest to put 40 years of hard work and hope into a case that told the story of Michelle’s shocking murder and thankfully, the jury saw it our way.”

In the Southern District, the award was presented to the members of the Iowa City Human Trafficking Task Force consisting of Iowa City police Detectives David Gonzales, Mike Smithy, Andy Rich and Jennifer Clarahan; Special Agent Jagat Sandu of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation; Coralville police Detective Hanna Dvorak; and Johnson County sheriff’s Sgt. Katrina Rudish.

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“The Iowa City Human Trafficking Task Force worked tirelessly to serve and protect victims, including child victims, of human trafficking, resulting in the successful prosecution of Kendall Streb, 52, of Hills, along with five other defendants, for sex trafficking and related offenses in the Southern District of Iowa,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The team worked to develop relationships with “reluctant victims, putting in endless hours to connect the victims with needed services,” such as counseling, legal services and financial help for school supplies.

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

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