Manchester man charged in fatal stabbing of Michelle Martinko pleads not guilty, requests DNA evidence

Defense asks state to turn over evidence, details of groundbreaking DNA analysis

Jerry Burns makes his initial appearance via video at Linn County District Court in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2
Jerry Burns makes his initial appearance via video at Linn County District Court in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, after his arrest in the 1979 murder of Michelle Martinko. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Manchester man, charged in the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in 1979, pleaded not guilty last week in Linn County District Court.

Jerry Lynn Burns, 64, who is charged with first-degree murder, also filed a motion asking the state to turn over all the evidence it intends to use at trial, including specific records, techniques and protocols in the analysis and collection of DNA, one of the key factors that led authorities to arrest Burns after 39 years.

Martinko was found stabbed to death in her family’s Buick on Dec. 19, 1979, in the parking lot of Westdale Mall. The Kennedy High School senior left a school choir banquet that night and drove to the mall to buy a new winter coat.

Her body was found early the next day, according to court records.

Detectives didn’t find a weapon or fingerprints to identify a suspect in the killing, and she wasn’t robbed, according to the criminal complaint. Investigators knew only that the teen was stabbed multiple times and had wounds on her hands, which showed she fought her killer.

A DNA profile was developed from blood found on Martinko’s clothing and on the gear shift of the vehicle, but a suspect hadn’t been matched until last year, when investigators covertly collected DNA from Burns.

Cedar Rapids police had used genetic genealogy to narrow down the profile to a pool of suspects that included Burns.

The technique involves comparing the suspect’s DNA markers with DNA profiles uploaded by the public to a website to help research family trees.


Last Friday, in a written plea of not guilty, Burns also waived his right to a speedy trial. He remains in jail on a $5 million cash-only bail. A trial date hasn’t yet been set.

Leon Spies, Burns’ lawyer, in the motion said he needs the evidence to prepare a defense and determine what expert testimony will be needed for trial. He wants numerous items, including all witness statements; any statements Burns made to police; recordings of phone calls from the jail and Burns visits with others at the jail; surveillance videos of Burns at his home or business; other telephone records, social media records and internet search histories or internet activity; financial and medical records; and items used in DNA extraction and analysis.

Spies also asked for any resumes of DNA collectors and examiners, notes examiners used in the course of analyzing evidence, copies of quality assurance and training manuals used in the labs, chain of custody of collected items and details about the procedures and protocols used for DNA testing.

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

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