Jerry Burns shows little reaction when accused of killing Michelle Martinko

He questions investigator about genetic prediction suspect photo, saying he doesn't see that in mirror

CRPD investigator Matt Denlinger watches a concealed video of his December 2018 interview with Burns at his Manchester b
CRPD investigator Matt Denlinger watches a concealed video of his December 2018 interview with Burns at his Manchester business at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. “You’d better prove I was there first,” Burns had said after subjecting to a search warrant for a buccal swab of his mouth. (Pool photo by Olivia Sun/Des Moines Register)

DAVENPORT — Jerry Burns, when confronted by police with a genetic prediction photo of the man authorities believe killed 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in 1979, said, “Do you think I look like that?”

Cedar Rapids police investigator Matthew Denlinger, in a videotaped interview, replied, “a little bit.”

“Hmm. Wow. Looks a lot different than when I look in the mirror,” Burns said Dec. 19, 2018, in a videotaped interview played Tuesday during his first-degree murder trial.

Burns, 66, seemed calm during the interview and showed little reaction to being accused of killing the teen. He remained seated behind his office desk at his business, Advanced Power Equipment and Coating Concepts in Manchester, while petting his cat that walked back and forth on the desk during some of the questioning.

Authorities said a public genealogy database, GEDmatch, led to Burns being identified as a match to the DNA found on the dress and gearshift of Martinko’s family Buick. Her body was found Dec. 20, 1979, in the Westdale Mall parking lot.

During testimony Monday, a DNA expert said fewer than one in 100 billion unrelated individuals would have the same genetic profile.

According to testimony last week, Martinko was stabbed 29 times. The fatal stab wound was to the sternum, which penetrated her aorta, and she bled to death, a pathologist testified.


The trial, moved to Scott County District Court because of pretrial publicity, started Feb. 10. The prosecution will wrap up its case Wednesday.

Denlinger, who taped the December 2018 interview with a small covert camera placed on his coffee cup, told Burns his name had come up in the cold case.

“Strange,” Burns said.

He said he remembered the Martinko case from the news when it happened. He also remembered seeing reports on Jodi Huisentruit, a news anchor for KIMT-TV in Mason City who went missing in 1995 and has never been found.

Denlinger never mentioned Huisentruit.

Burns denied knowing Martinko and living or working in Cedar Rapids. He said he had been to Westdale Mall but denied being there the night of the slaying.

Denlinger, during the interview, had a search warrant and took a buccal swab to test Burns’ DNA. He told Burns he would be a match for DNA from the crime scene. This will just confirm “what we already know,” he said.

Burns said he couldn’t explain it.

“Test it and see if it is. Wait for (the) test to come back.”

Denlinger asked what happened that night.

“Test it,” Burns said.

Denlinger suggested different scenarios for what might have happened — maybe Burns ran into a girl he wanted to talk to or sit by.

Burns denied those suggestions.

At one point, Denlinger asked Burns if he had any “mental episodes” in his life.

Burns said he might have. He said he had concussions after falling but never went to a doctor.

“Did you murder someone?” Denlinger asked.

Burns said, “Test the DNA. If I was there I don’t know. I don’t have any recollection of being there.”

Denlinger, in court Tuesday, testified that he noticed Burns had a lot of scars on his hands and arms.


According to previous testimony, Martinko had defensive wounds — meaning she fought her attacker — and police believe the suspect cut himself because his blood was found on Martinko’s black dress.

Defense lawyer Leon Spies, on cross examination, asked Denlinger whether he noticed equipment belts hanging on the wall in Burns’ office.

Denlinger said yes.

Spies then asked if Burns explained how he got those scars — that his hand has been smashed or cut as a result of his work.

“Did he say he had glaucoma?” Spies asked.

Denlinger said yes.

In other testimony, Michael Allison, 53, a federal inmate who was in the same Linn County Jail unit as Burns, said Burns signed his autograph on a photo of himself in The Gazette on Jan. 11. The photo was taken during a suppression hearing.

Allison, charged in U.S. District Court with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, said he and Burns became close and often would play pinochle and talk. Burns would sometimes call him “son.”

During one conversation, Burns mentioned that “nobody was thinking about DNA back then,” Allison said. He then asked Burns if he did the crime, and Burns said “I can’t talk about this.”

In another incident, Allison had been beating Burns in pinochle, and Burns told him if he continued he was going to “take him to the mall.”

Allison said Burns also told him it didn’t matter what happens to him because “he got to be out with his family all these years.”


Spies, on cross examination, went over Allison’s numerous convictions for drugs, fraud and bringing undocumented immigrants into the country.

Allison admitted he had committed those crimes.

Spies also pointed out that Allison, if convicted on the latest drug charge, faces many years in prison.

Allison agreed, saying he’s facing 15 to 25 years in federal prison.

Spies asked Allison if he was using this information on Burns as a bargaining chip for a reduced sentence.

Allison denied it, saying he didn’t have a “cooperation” deal with federal prosecutors or state prosecutors in this case.

He offered the information about Burns after the mall comment. It “disgusted” him, Allison testified. Allison said he has a 17-year-old daughter.

A DNA analyst from a private DNA lab — Bode Technology in Lorton, Va. — testified about the partial male profile developed from the gear shift when compared to Burns’ buccal swab. The testing looked only at the paternal line of DNA.

Christina Nash, a senior analyst, said Burns “cannot be excluded” as the contributor. Unlike the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, which uses random probability, the private lab uses a method of DNA comparison that produces a smaller number. Nash said there would be one male in 1,773 who would have this same profile found at the crime scene.

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

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