Feb. 10 trial in Martinko cold-case murder set That could be reset again as defense wants trial moved

Jerry Burns
Jerry Burns

CEDAR RAPIDS — The cold case murder trial for a Manchester man charged with fatally stabbing 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in 1979 was reset Monday to Feb. 10, though that could change again.

The date is tentative because Jerry Burns, 64, charged with first-degree murder, will ask the court to move his trial from Linn County, Burns’ attorney, Leon Spies, said during a phone conference hearing. Spies said he will file that request soon.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Fae Hoover-Grinde said she would set a hearing to have Burns waive his right to a speedy trial. Spies filed the waiver, but the judge will have Burns, in person, waive his right in a short Oct. 21 hearing. She also set another pretrial hearing for Jan. 27.

A search warrant from last February previously obtained by The Gazette explains how genetic genealogy shared publicly 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 — collected from a soda straw by an investigator in October 2018 without his knowledge, was a match, the document shows.

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 attack.

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-unknown suspect was uploaded to the site. That revealed it shared DNA with distant cousin, Brandy Jennings, 40, of Vancouver, Wash.

Jennings, a second cousin twice removed related to Burns through her maternal great-grandparents, told The Gazette in March 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, 2018, 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 had left a school choir banquet 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 and is in jail on a $5 million cash-only bail.

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

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