Search warrant: Man charged in Michelle Martinko slaying may have cut himself during crime

Blood stain on teen's dress matches Jerry Burns' DNA, police say

FILE PHOTO: Jerry Burns makes his initial appearance via video at Linn County District Court in Cedar Rapids on Thursday
FILE PHOTO: 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 — Authorities believe the 64-year-old Manchester man charged with fatally stabbing Michelle Martinko in 1979 may have cut himself during the brutal act.

A blood stain on the back of 18-year-old Martinko’s dress matched Jerry Burns’ DNA, so it’s “logical to assume” that his blood got on her dress from being cut “while he was stabbing her,” Cedar Rapids police investigator Matthew Denlinger said in a Dec. 19 search warrant affidavit unsealed last week.

Denlinger sought the warrant to visually examine and photograph Burns’ skin for possible scars, according to the document. The examination results were not listed in the document.

A Feb. 5 warrant previously obtained by The Gazette stated the probability of finding Burns’ DNA profile among unrelated individuals would be less than 1 in 100 billion.

That warrant also explained how the 39-year-old cold case led to Burns’ Dec. 19 arrest with the help of genetic genealogy. DNA from two distant cousins led to Burns and his two brothers. His brothers were eliminated as possible matches but his DNA — taken from a soda straw and collected by an investigator in October 2018 was a match — according to the document.

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 suspect was uploaded to the site and showed shared DNA with a cousin, Brandy Jennings, 40, of Vancouver, Wash., on the site.

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 public database. She never thought her DNA would lead to possibly catching a murder suspect, she said.

Jennings was mentioned in the Feb. 5 warrant but said she was never contacted by police. She had just recently learned about the genetic connection after members of a Facebook group devoted to the Martinko case contacted her.

Jennings said she didn’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 said he believes a person’s browsing history can reveal sexual preferences, desires or fetishes, as well as establish a general timeline of what days and times the person uses the computer and for what purpose.

Holst also noted that 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.

Investigators didn’t discover any evidence that Burns and Martinko had a previous relationship or even knew each other before her death, the warrant showed. He would have been 25 years old at the time of Martinko’s slaying.

Burns, during his 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 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.

Burns, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, remains in jail on a $5 million cash-only bail. His trial is set for Oct. 14 in Linn County District Court.

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