Public Safety

#13 DNA technology leads to break in Michelle Martinko case | The Gazette Top Stories 2018

Police make arrest after 39 years in cold case killing

Michelle Martinko is seen in a 1979 Kennedy High School yearbook photo.
Michelle Martinko is seen in a 1979 Kennedy High School yearbook photo.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Thirty-nine years after Michelle Martinko was found stabbed to death in her family’s Buick in the parking lot of Westdale Mall, Cedar Rapids police announced they finally arrested a suspect.

Jerry Lynn Burns, 64, of Manchester was arrested Dec. 19 and charged with first-degree murder. Police Chief Wayne Jerman said the arrest came after investigators collected a “covert” DNA sample from him and matched it to blood evidence that was taken from Martinko’s clothing and other areas inside the car at the time.

Burns is being held at the Linn County Correctional Center on a $5 million cash-only bail.

Martinko, 18, last was seen alive Dec. 19, 1979.

That evening, the Kennedy High School senior left a school choir banquet and drover her family’s 1972 Buick Electra to Westdale Mall in search of a winter coat.

Early the next morning, police found Martinko’s body in a parking lot. She had been stabbed multiple times in the face and chest, police said. Wounds on her hands showed she fought her killer, but the medical examiner’s office said Martinko was found fully clothed and had not been sexually assaulted.

Twenty-seven years later — in 2006 — police announced they had developed a DNA profile. The profile was uploaded to the national Combined DNA Index System — known as CODIS — but it did not produce a match from known felons.

Ten years after that, detectives enlisted the help of a Virginia company that uses DNA to predict the physical features and ancestry of a suspect. The company generated images of a man who may have killed Martinko.

The company also used genetic genealogy to help police identify and narrow down a suspect pool. The technique involves comparing the suspect’s DNA markers with DNA profiles uploaded by the public to a website to help research family trees.

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Though police won’t comment in detail, it appears Burns was not developed as a suspect until this year. The Virginia company said it did not offer the genetic genealogy service until May.

Burns’ arrest came as a shock to the Manchester community in which he had lived and worked.

But to Martinko’s surviving family — her sister Janelle and brother-in-law John Stonebraker — it was a relief.

“Janelle and I am very pleased and grateful for the work of several generations of Cedar Rapids uniformed police and detectives in bringing Mr. Burns to justice,” the Stonebrakers said in a statement. “From the leadership on down, they never gave up.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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