Sentencing set April 17 for man convicted of killing Michelle Martinko

Burns faces life in prison without parole

Jerry Burns listens as defense attorney Leon Spies delivers his closing arguments Feb. 24, 2020, in Burns' trial at the
Jerry Burns listens as defense attorney Leon Spies delivers his closing arguments Feb. 24, 2020, in Burns’ trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport. Burns was convicted of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Michelle Martinko of Cedar Rapids in 1979. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Manchester man, convicted last month for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in 1979, will be sentenced to life in prison without parole April 17 in Linn County District Court.

The seven women and five men on the Scott County jury deliberated less than three hours to find Jerry Burns, 66, guilty of first-degree murder.

Martinko was found dead in her parents’ Buick, which was parked near J.C. Penney at Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids. She went to the mall to get a coat her mother had put on layaway.

According to testimony, the teen was stabbed 29 times. A pathologist said the fatal stab wound was to the sternum, which penetrated her aorta, and she bled to death.

A public genealogy database, GEDmatch, helped authorities identify Burns as a match to the DNA found on the back of Martinko’s black dress and car gearshift. Burns was arrested Dec. 19, 2018 — on the 39th anniversary of her death.

Testimony showed Burns was the major contributor of the profile — less than one out of 100 billion of unrelated individuals would have the same profile, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation criminalists said.

The trial was moved to Scott County because of pretrial publicity.

Leon Spies of Iowa City, Burns’ attorney, attempted to put doubts in the jurors’ minds about how evidence was handled over the years.

In his closing, he argued Burns never admitted to anything and told investigators he didn’t know Martinko or how his DNA could be at the crime scene. Spies said the evidence was lacking and the prosecutor failed to prove Burns was the killer.    

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