MICHELLE MARTINKO

Jerry Burns will be sentenced this week for killing Michelle Marktinko in 1979

Manchester man faces life in prison without parole

Jerry Burns listens as defense attorney Leon Spies delivers his closing arguments in his trial at the Scott County Court
Jerry Burns listens as defense attorney Leon Spies delivers his closing arguments in his trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport on Feb. 24. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — After waiting five months, Michelle Martinko’s family and friends on Friday finally will see a Manchester man sentenced to life in prison for fatally stabbing the teen in 1979.

The sentencing of Jerry Burns, 66, had been reset twice because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Burns was convicted by jury of first-degree murder Feb. 24 in Scott County. The trial was moved because of extensive pretrial publicity.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Fae Hoover will first consider the defense’s motion for a new trial — a standard motion upon conviction — and, if she decides to deny it, Hoover then will proceed to sentencing in Linn County District Court.

Because of the ongoing coronavirus restrictions, there will be limited seating in the courtroom to allow for social distancing, but the hearingwill be livestreamed on The Gazette and other media websites for the public to view.

Burns’ 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.

Janelle and John Stonebraker, Martinko’s sister and brother-in-law, will not attend the sentencing in person. The Stonebrakers, who live in Florida, will provide a taped victim impact statement to be played during sentencing.

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John Stonebraker told The Gazette Monday he and his wife now are “at peace” after waiting years for justice.

“We remain so grateful to generations of Cedar Rapids law enforcement that acted like a dog with a bone,” Stonebraker said. “They just would not let it go.

“The present generation took a wild and expensive flier on the very small chance that an identity could be discovered with a relative on GEDmatch. It was a moonshot. It was like winning the lottery.”

The Stonebrakers are the only living immediate family members of Martinko. Her parents, Albert and Janet Martinko, died in 1995 and 1998, respectively, without knowing the case would be solved.

Leon Spies, Burns’s lawyer, will argue for a new trial at Friday’s hearing, partly based on issues raised pretrial — which Hoover considered and denied — including the suppression of evidence that led to Burns’ DNA profile.

Spies, in his motion, said the court erred in rejecting Burns’s claim that the search and seizures leading to discovery of his DNA profile and that of his family violated his constitutional rights.

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

Hoover, in her pretrial ruling, said Cedar Rapids police didn’t violate Burns’ rights when they authorized a company to compare the DNA profile from the dress.

The defense’s challenge to police obtaining DNA from Burns’ brothers to exclude them as suspects also was denied. Burns doesn’t have a privacy right to his brothers’ DNA, Hoover said in that ruling.

On Friday, Spies also will argue that the court shouldn’t have allowed portions of Burns’s statements to investigators on Dec. 19, 2018 at trial. Those challenged statements violated Burns’ privilege against self-incrimination and his rights to assistance of a lawyer and due process of law.

Spies, in the motion, also contends the jury’s verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence, and the testimony of Michael Allison, Burns’s cellmate pending trial, should not have been allowed because it was “either false or made with reckless disregard for the truth.”

Allison, 53 — charged in federal court with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine — testified Burns, during one of their interactions, was losing to him in pinochle and Burns told him if he continued he was going to “take him to the mall.”

Martinko’s body was found in her parents’ car parked at the then-Westdale Mall, in southwest Cedar Rapids.

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Allison said he had no cooperation deal with federal prosecutors for his testimony in this case. He offered the information about Burns after the mall comment was made.

It “disgusted” him because he has a 17-year-old daughter, he testified.

First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks has not filed his resistance to the motion at this time.

Both Spies and Maybanks likely will file written arguments before Friday’s hearing.

Burns’ two-week trial was moved to Scott County because of pretrial publicity. The jury deliberated less than three hours before finding him guilty.

Martinko’s body was found in her parents’ Buick, which was parked near J.C. Penney at Westdale Mall. She went to the mall 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 that she bled to death.

The hearing will start 1:30 p.m. Friday.

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

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