MICHELLE MARTINKO

Hearing in Michelle Martinko murder case to focus on Jerry Burns' 'deviant' computer activity

Internet history shows 'fetish with sexually assaulting and killing women,' prosecution argues

Jerry Burns listens to testimony Jan. 10 in Linn County District Court in Cedar Rapids. Burns is charged with first-degr
Jerry Burns listens to testimony Jan. 10 in Linn County District Court in Cedar Rapids. Burns is charged with first-degree murder in the 1979 death of Michelle Martinko, and appeared with attorney Leon Spies for a pretrial hearing on a motion to suppress evidence and admissibility of evidence. That hearing will continue Thursday in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — When a hearing over key evidence in the cold case murder of Michelle Martinko resumes Thursday, prosecutors will focus on what they describe as defendant Jerry Burns’ “fetish with sexually assaulting and killing women” — a possible motive for stabbing the teenager in 1979.

Burns, 65, of Manchester, is charged with first-degree murder. He is asking the court to toss out the DNA and computer evidence that led authorities to make an arrest in case 39 years after the 18-year-old’s death in Cedar Rapids.

In is motion to suppress the evidence from trial, Burns’ attorney argues it was obtained without warrants and there were violations of privacy and other rights.

Last week, in the first portion of the suppression hearing, a police investigator explained how public genealogy database GEDmatch led to Burns being identified as a match to the DNA evidence — blood found on Martinko’s dress and the gearshift of her car where her body was discovered Dec. 20, 1979, in a parking lot at the Westdale Mall.

Police covertly obtained Burns’ DNA from a drinking straw he left on a table after lunch Oct. 29, 2018, at the Pizza Ranch in Manchester, the police investigator testified last week.

Investigator Matthew Denlinger said no warrant was required because the straw had been discarded at a public place. Warrants were obtained for tests confirming Burns’ matched the DNA from the blood.

The hearing was cut short last week because of scheduling conflicts.

Leon Spies, Burns’ lawyer, will have a chance to cross-examine prosecution witnesses and may have witnesses of his own to call, which could include Burns.

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First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks will continue his case, arguing Burns’ statements to police during an interview at his business in December 2018 were voluntary and without coercion from investigators. Burns wasn’t in custody at the time so he could have left or stopped the interview, according to Maybanks’ court motion.

Once police made the decision to arrest Burns at the end of the interview, he was advised of his Miranda rights but continued to provide statements in the ride to the police department, which are admissible at trial, records show.

While at the department, Burns did ask for an attorney, Maybanks said in the motion.

A search of Burns’ work computer showed internet activity that could provide evidence of a motive or his desire to “abuse, attack and kill” Martinko, the motion states, which was absent in the investigation up to this point.

Jeff Holst, a Cedar Rapids police investigator who examined Burns’ office computer, found Burns had a “fetish with sexually assaulting and killing women,” the motion states.

Holst said he found a pattern of interest going back to January 2018 — which is as far as the computer examination could be completed — of Burns’ internet searches and activity “multiple days a week in the late afternoon, evening and sometimes after midnight,” the motion said.

The searches and activity involved Burns going to websites and pages containing videos focused on blonde women as victims of strangulation during sex, rape, necrophilia, kidnapping and assault during sex — including stabbing and killing, the motion states.

Maybanks, in the motion, said until the search of the computer, no relationship or connection had been made between Burns and Martinko.

Randy Cole, who worked for over 30 years with the Department of Correctional Services and now is a consultant in sex offender risk assessment, will testify about the potential significance of the internet activity in identifying a motive and how it might support the intent and premeditation elements of a first-degree murder charge, the motion said.

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Cole also wrote a position paper containing research to support his expert opinion that the discovery of “sadistic deviant pornography” on Burns’ computer is relevant in proving a potential motive, according to the motion.

Spies argued in a motion filed last year, which led to this hearing, that the computer search so many years after the death is “irrelevant and that its relevance, if any, is far exceeded by the likelihood of unduly prejudicing the defendant.”

Another hearing may be scheduled depending on how quickly the testimony goes Thursday. The hearing starts at 1 p.m. in Linn County District Court.

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

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