DNA expert testifies Jerry Burns DNA 'consistent' with stain found on Martinko's dress

Jerry Burns listens to Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation criminalist Michael Schmit explain DNA profiling Monday d
Jerry Burns listens to Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation criminalist Michael Schmit explain DNA profiling Monday during Burns’ murder trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport. Burns, 66, of Manchester, is charged with first-degree murder. He is accused of killing Michelle Martinko, 18, of Cedar Rapids, on Dec. 19, 1979. He was arrested on Dec. 19, 2018. The trial was moved out of Linn County because of pretrial publicity. At right is the dress Martinko was wearing the day she was fatally stabbed. (Pool photo by Olivia Sun/Des Moines Register)

DAVENPORT — The DNA from a Manchester man, charged with slaying 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in Cedar Rapids 40 year ago, was “consistent and cannot be eliminated” with a profile developed from the teen’s dress, according to an Iowa criminalist.

Less than 1 out of 100 billion of unrelated individuals would have the same profile as Jerry Burns, 66, who is charged with killing Martinko, Michael Schmit, a criminalist with Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, testified Monday.

First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks asked if this same profile could come from another relative of Burns.

Schmit said he would expect only a twin would have the same profile. Burns’ brothers were eliminated as possible contributors to the stain taken from Martinko’s dress that she was wearing Dec. 19, 1979, the day she died.    

According to testimony, Martinko was stabbed 29 times all over her body.

Authorities said a public genealogy database, GEDmatch, led to Burns being identified as a match to the blood found on the dress and gearshift of Martinko’s family Buick, where her body was found Dec. 20, 1979.  

The trial, moved out of Linn County because of pretrial publicity, started Feb. 10 in Scott County District Court. The prosecution continues its case at 9 a.m. Tuesday.     

Gazette reporter Trish Mehaffey will continue her live coverage from the courtroom Tuesday.

Schmit said DNA criminalists aren’t allowed to use the word “match.” They can “eliminate” an individual — meaning not a match — or determine that person “cannot be eliminated” — which is a match.

During his work on this case since 2016, Schmit said he eliminated numerous profiles when he compared it with the profile developed from the dress in 2005 by Linda Sawer, a former criminalist, who testified about her analysis last week. 

In earlier testimony, Doug Larison, a former Cedar Rapids police investigator, said the male profile found on the dress led police to believe the suspect cut himself during the attack. Over the years, a list of suspects was developed and bucal swabs were obtained, but no matches were found.

The gearshift, which had blood on it, and her dress, pantyhose and underwear were tested before 2008, when Cedar Rapids had a catastrophic flood, which damaged evidence at the police department, including the Martinko evidence.

Defense attorney Leon Spies asked several questions about how the Martinko evidence was damaged in floodwaters and was sent to a company to be restored, attempting to discredit the condition of the DNA evidence. However, the evidence from the Martinko case already had been tested and a suspect’s profile was developed in 2005, Larison said.

Matthew Denlinger, lead investigator on this case since 2015, said that in 2016, he learned about Parabon Nanolabs, a private Virginia company that helps law enforcement use DNA — a process called Snapshot — to predict the physical features of what a suspect might look like to generate leads in an investigation.

The images were shown to the public, and police received hundreds of tips and leads but none led to a suspect, Denlinger said.

Denlinger then explained in 2018 he found out Parabon was using kinship analysis and genetic genealogy to find suspects from a DNA profile to generate leads. Parabon uploaded the Martinko suspect to GEDmatch, a public database, which determined the suspect was from one of four family trees of great-grandparents.

The prosecution and defense reached a stipulation that this evidence could come through Denlinger’s testimony, without having to have several Parabon officials testify.

Denlinger collected DNA from each tree to find a relative of the suspect. He sent samples to Parabon, and it would tell him which trees he could eliminate. He finally got a hit on the third one he pursued. This led to Janice Burns, a first cousin of Jerry Burns, in August 2018. She consented to providing her DNA, which was sent to Parabon and this led to three brothers — Jerry and Kenneth Burns of Manchester, and Donald Burns of Davenport.

Covert DNA was collected from Donald Burns’ toothbrush found in his trash and a drinking glass he used on Oct. 26, 2018, Denlinger said. Police also collected a drinking straw that Kenneth Burns used while eating lunch at a golf course on Oct. 24, similar to how Denlinger took Jerry Burns’ straw he used Oct. 29 at a Pizza Ranch in Manchester.

Schmit, the criminalist, testified that Jerry Burns’ straw, compared with his buccal swab taken by Denlinger on Dec. 19, 2018, during an interview before his arrest, showed it was consistent and less than 1 out of 38 quintillion of unrelated individuals would have the same profile.

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.