Public Safety

Jury chosen for Manchester man charged with killing Michelle Martinko

Openings on Wednesday

Jerry Burns looks towards First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks during a suppression hearing at the Linn Co
Jerry Burns looks towards First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks during a suppression hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Burns is charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Michelle Martinko in 1979. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DAVENPORT — Nine woman and six men will hear the cold case of a Manchester man accused of fatally stabbing 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in 1979.

About 100 prospective jurors reported Monday in Scott County District Court, where the trial was moved because of pretrial publicity. Opening statements will begin 9 a.m. Wednesday. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

Follow The Gazette reporter Trish Mehaffey’s live coverage from the courtroom starting with openings Wednesday. Followers can ask questions and provide comments.

Burns, charged with first-degree murder, is accused of fatally stabbing the Kennedy High School senior on Dec. 19, 1979. Police found her body in her parents’ Buick, which was parked in a lot behind the J.C. Penney at Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids.

WHAT WE KNOW: Key moments in the Michelle Martinko cold case investigation.

Martinko, who went to the mall in search of a winter coat, was brutally attacked and stabbed 21 times. Police found her body Dec. 20. There were no witnesses, and no murder weapon or fingerprints were found in the car. Blood that wasn’t Martinko’s was found on the back of her black dress and the gearshift of the car, but police couldn’t identify a suspect.

Burns, 66, was arrested Dec. 19, 2018 — the 39th anniversary of Martinko’s death. Authorities said a public genealogy database, GEDmatch, led to Burns being identified as a match to the blood found on the dress and gearshift.

A criminal complaint showed that a partial male DNA profile was developed from blood found on Martinko’s dress. Fewer than 1 in 100 billion unrelated individuals could have the same profile.

Police covertly obtained Burns’ DNA from a drinking straw he left on a table after eating lunch with his son Oct. 29, 2018, at the Pizza Ranch in Manchester, according to testimony during last month’s suppression hearings.

Burns repeatedly told investigators he didn’t know how his DNA was found at the crime scene, according to testimony. He said he didn’t know Martinko and he had no memory of being at the crime scene.

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