Manchester man charged in fatal stabbing of Michelle Martinko makes first appearance

Judge orders $5 million cash-only bail

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 64-year-old Manchester man was charged Thursday in the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko, 39 years to the day that her body was found in her parent’s 1972 Buick Electra in the Westdale Mall parking lot.

Jerry Lynn Burns, who appeared in a safety jail smock from the Linn County Jail, was charged with first-degree murder during an initial appearance Thursday morning.

Sixth Judicial Associate District Judge Casey Jones ordered a $5 million cash-only bail for Burns.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Mike Harris said this was a “brutal, violent and horrendous” crime where a young woman was stabbed repeatedly, and a crime that has haunted the Cedar Rapids community since Martinko’s body was found Dec. 20, 1979. Harris asked for the $5 million cash-only bond, citing concerns that Burns would be a “flight risk” because he is a business owner and would have the financial means to avoid authorities.

Burns, who sat with his hands clenched together in front of his face showing his handcuffed wrists, didn’t speak during the hearing except to say he would apply for a court-appointed lawyer.

Some of Burns’ family members were in the courtroom during the hearing, but their lawyer, John Carr, said neither he nor the family wanted to comment.

A criminal complaint shows Burns’ arrest after so many years was the result of modern science and technology, similar to what was used to capture the Golden State killer and some other recent high profile cases.

Detectives found no weapon or fingerprints to identify a suspect in Martinko’s death, and she wasn’t robbed. Investigators only knew the Kennedy High School senior was stabbed to death in the Buick and had wounds on her hands, which showed she fought her killer. Martinko’s body was found fully clothed, and the medical examiner’s office ruled out sexual assault.

The criminal complaint released Thursday shows that a partial male DNA profile was developed from blood found on Martinko’s clothing, and fewer than 1 in 100 billion unrelated individuals could have the same DNA profile. And another profile was developed from blood found on the gear shift of the Martinko’s vehicle.

Cedar Rapids police used DNA genetic genealogical research to narrow down the profile to a specific pool of suspects, which included Burns, according to the complaint. Police then covertly collected DNA from Burns and sent the specimen to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation crime lab for analysis. The analysis showed Burns was a match to the DNA found in the blood on Martinko’s clothing and consistent with the DNA profile taken from the gear shift.

A DNA profile was developed in 2006, according to Cedar Rapids investigator Matt Denlinger, who has worked on the case for four years. That profile was uploaded to the national Combined DNA Index System — known as CODIS — but it did not produce a match from known felons.

Ten years later, investigators decided to used some little-known technology to advance the case. Enlisting a Virginia company, Parabon NanoLabs, that uses DNA to predict the physical features and ancestry of a suspect, Cedar Rapids police generated images of who Martinko’s killer may have looked like. When those images were released in 2016, Denlinger said hundreds of tips poured in to police department — but none of the leads panned out until now.

Burns was interviewed Wednesday at his Delaware County business, Advanced Coating Concepts — a powder-coating shop and turf equipment dealer — and initially denied being at the crime scene in 1979. But he “ultimately claimed he did not have any recollection of committing this crime,” the complaint shows, but he could not offer any “plausible” explanation why his DNA would be found at the crime scene.

The complaint doesn’t say what “covert” means investigators used to obtain Burns’ DNA or if Burns knew Martinko.

Police on Wednesday also wouldn’t say when or how Burns emerged as a suspect in the cold case. Several of Burns’ relatives declined to comment when reached by The Gazette.

On Wednesday, Chief Wayne Jerman said Cedar Rapids and Martinko’s family now could take comfort in knowing a murder arrest had been made.

“This case is a prime example that members of this department never gave up and they never will give up on any crime that has been committed against the members of this community,” he said. “The tenacity and dedication demonstrated by these investigators and officers, along with the ongoing assistance and direction of the Linn County Attorney’s Office is why we are here tonight and why we can close this … tragic case that has been haunting this community for 39 years.”

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