Jerry Burns hires 'Making a Murderer' lawyer for appeal in Michelle Martinko murder

No appeal filed yet

Jerry Burns is led from the courtroom following his sentencing hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on
Jerry Burns is led from the courtroom following his sentencing hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. Burns, who was convicted in February of killing Michelle Martinko in 1979, was sentenced to life in prison. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Convicted killer Jerry Burns, who fatally stabbed 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in 1979, has hired a Chicago-area lawyer who received national attention for representing a man featured in Netflix’s documentary series “Making of a Murderer.”

Court appeal records state Kathleen Zellner, who represented Steven Avery in the true crime documentary, and associate Nicholas Curran, who both practice in Downers Grove, Ill., have joined the appeal team, along with Elizabeth Araguas and Frank Nidey of Nidey Erdahl Meier & Araguas in Cedar Rapids.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office confirmed that no appeal has been filed at this time. The deadline is Feb. 16.

Burns, 67, of Manchester, was convicted of first-degree murder last February and sentenced to life in prison without parole. His trial attracted national attention because the cold case was solved after 39 years due in large part to DNA evidence and genetic genealogy. He was arrested Dec. 19, 2018 — on the anniversary of her death.

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

The teen was stabbed 29 times, according to testimony. A pathologist said the fatal stab wound was to her heart and she bled to death.

Burns’ DNA profile was developed from blood on Martinko’s black dress. The profile found a hit with DNA from Brandy Jennings, a distant cousin of Burns, in the GEDmatch database, which is public.


Investigators narrowed family trees of great-grandparents to a first cousin and then Burns and his two brothers. The brothers were eliminated as suspects during the investigation.

Testimony showed Burns was the major contributor of the profile — less than 1 in 100 billion of unrelated individuals would have the same profile, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation criminalists said.

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

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