Jury selection continues Tuesday in 1979 cold case slaying of Michelle Martinko

Trial moved to Scott County because of pretrial publicity

Jerry Burns stands with his lawyer Leon Spies (right) in the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Jan. 16, 2020. Bu
Jerry Burns stands with his lawyer Leon Spies (right) in the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Jan. 16, 2020. Burns is charged with murder in the Dec. 19, 1979, slaying of Michelle Martinko at the Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids. His trial begins in Scott County this week. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DAVENPORT — Jury selection continues Tuesday for a Manchester man accused of killing 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in 1979.

The defense will start its questioning Tuesday morning. The prosecution finished up Monday. Opening statements could begin in the afternoon.

Follow The Gazette reporter Trish Mehaffey’s live coverage from the courtroom as soon as testimony begins. 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 Oct. 29, 2018, at the Pizza Ranch in Manchester, according to testimony during last month’s 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.

The trial, moved to Scott County District Court because of pretrial publicity, is expected to last at least two weeks.

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

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