October trial on track for man accused of killing Michelle Martinko in 1979

Jerry Burns' trial set for Oct. 14 in Linn County

Jerry Burns
Jerry Burns

CEDAR RAPIDS — The October trial remains on track for a Manchester man accused of fatally stabbing 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in 1979.

In a hearing Monday, the attorney for Jerry Burns, 64, and two prosecutors said evidence materials are being shared and there were no pending motions to discuss.

Burns waived his right to be present at the hearing and didn’t attend.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Fae Hoover-Grinde held the short hearing in chambers with First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks and Assistant Linn County Attorney Michael Harris and Burns’ defense lawyer, Leon Spies, who called into the hearing.

Maybanks said prosecutors had consulted with an expert who may testify at trial but that information still was being reviewed. He said they will share details with the defense if they decide it will be used at trial, but he did not say what kind of expert it was.

Spies asked the judge for an in-camera review — documents examined by the court but not made public — regarding Burns’ health records.

Judge Hoover-Grinde granted the review and ended the hearing. She and lawyers stayed to conduct the review.

The trial remains set for Oct. 14 in Linn County District Court.

A February search warrant previously obtained by The Gazette explains how genetic genealogy shared on a website helped lead to the Dec. 19, 2018, arrest of Burns in the 39-year-old cold case.

According to the affidavit, DNA from two distant cousins, when compared with DNA from the crime scene, led to Burns and his two brothers as possible matches. His brothers were eliminated. but Burns’ DNA — taken from a soda straw and collected by an investigator in October 2018 without his knowledge, was a match, according to the document.

The probability of finding Burns’ DNA profile among unrelated individuals would be less than 1 in 100 billion, the documents show.

According to another warrant from Dec. 19, authorities believe Burns may have cut himself during the brutal act.

A blood stain on the back of Martinko’s dress matched Burns’ DNA, so it’s “logical to assume” his blood got on her dress from being cut “while he was stabbing her,” Cedar Rapids police investigator Matthew Denlinger, wrote in the affidavit.

Parabon NanoLabs in Reston, Va., told investigators in May about GEDmatch, a public DNA database used to help research family trees. The DNA of the then-unkown suspect was uploaded to the site. That revealed it shared DNA with a distant cousin, Brandy Jennings, 40, of Vancouver, Wash.

Jennings, a second cousin twice removed related to Burns through her paternal great-grandparents, told The Gazette last month she had forgotten about uploading her DNA to the database.

Jennings was mentioned in the Feb. 5 warrant but said she was never contacted by police. She said she doesn’t know Burns or any of his family members and has no ties to Iowa.

The February warrant also revealed that activity on Burns’ office computer included searches for “blonde females, assault, rape, strangulation, murder, abuse and rape of a deceased individual, and cannibalism.”

In the warrant, Cedar Rapids police investigator Jeff Holst noted Martinko was blond, attacked, assaulted with a blunt force injury to her head and stabbed about 21 times. She had defensive wounds consistent with fighting off her attacker before she died.

Burns, during a Dec. 19 interview with police, denied knowing Martinko or being at the crime scene.

Martinko was found stabbed to death in her family’s Buick on Dec. 19, 1979, in a 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 winter coat. Her body was found the next day, court records show.

Burns has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and is jailed on a $5 million cash-only bail.

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