Four decades ago, 18-year-old Michelle Marie Martinko was found stabbed to death in the family’s car in the parking lot of a Cedar Rapids mall.
Exactly 39 years after her death, police took a Manchester man into custody after matching his DNA to blood found at the crime scene.
Jerry Lynn Burns, 65, is set to face a jury in February, bringing momentum to a case that was left cold for years. If found guilty of his first-degree murder charges, he’ll face life in prison.
December 19, 1979
Police found Martinko’s body in her parents’ tan 1972 Buick at Cedar Rapids’ Westdale Mall parking lot around 4 a.m. on December 20, 1979.
The Kennedy High School senior had driven to the mall after a school choir banquet to shop for a new winter coat.
Now, her face and chest had been stabbed at least eight times. Wounds on the teen’s hands showed she fought her killer.
Detectives found no weapon or fingerprints to identify a suspect and said Martinko had not been robbed. Based on the number of stab wounds — particularly to the young woman’s face — police considered the homicide personal in nature.
The case goes cold
Within days of Martinko’s killing, police received more than 200 phone calls and letters from people who wanted to help, according to Des Moines Register archives. The police chief at the time, Ray Baker, said the fatal stabbing “outraged the whole community.”
Hundreds of people were interviewed and countless leads were followed, police said a year after the slaying. As the investigation slowed, a $10,000 (AU $15,142) reward was offered.
On June 19, 1980, police released a composite sketch, developed based on descriptions provided by two witnesses, of the man they believed stabbed Martinko. The sketch indicated a white man in his late teens or early 20s, weighing between 165 (74kg) and 175 (79kg) pounds, and standing about 6 feet tall.
During the original investigation, detectives compiled a list of more than 80 potential suspects. More than 60 were tested and cleared.
Investigators later sought the services of a company that specialises in DNA phenotyping, which Cedar Rapids police described as the process of predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence.
That company, police said, produced portraits for the associated person of interest. Predictions were made for ancestry and facial features, police said.
Then the case went cold.
DNA evidence leads to arrest
Using newer technology, Cedar Rapids police last year created profiles from DNA procured from case evidence in 2006. Investigators said the man who stabbed Martinko cut his hand and left blood behind on her clothes and on the gear shift knob.
In one of those profiles, authorities said there were fewer than one in 100 billion unrelated individuals who would have had the same profile.
Cedar Rapids police then used DNA genetic genealogical research to narrow the profile “down to a specific pool of suspects,” which included Burns, according to a criminal complaint.
In October 2018, Matthew Denlinger, a Cedar Rapids police investigator, saw Burns drink sodas out of a plastic glass with a clear straw. He retrieved it after Burns left it behind, according to search warrants. An analyst at the state crime lab said DNA from the straw matched blood found on Martinko’s dress.
Burns was arrested on December 19, 2018.
At the time of his arrest, Burns had been living in Manchester, a town of about 5,000 people 45 minutes north of Cedar Rapids, for longer than Martinko’s case had been cold.
Burns, who would have been 25 at the time of Martinko’s death, said he could not offer a “plausible explanation” for why his DNA was found at the crime scene, authorities said at the time of his arrest.
“The community is in shock, his friends are in shock, his family is in shock. I feel bad for the victim’s family because they’ve been wondering every day of their life what happened to their daughter,” Russ Wright, who served Burns nearly every day at a local BP gas station, said last December. “I also feel bad for, you know, his current family and friends because … now they have to go through all this as well.”
Burns owns a powder-coating company, Advanced Coating Concepts, in Manchester.
He previously co-owned a truck stop near town. He built a new home on land his parents once farmed and constructed a gas station and convenience store near where he lived. Several residents lauded his professionalism and business savvy when speaking with the Register last year.
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Burns’ arrest prompted a round of whispering about two of his family members.
Burns’ wife, Patricia, died by suicide in 2008. His cousin, Brian Burns, vanished December 19, 2013 — exactly 34 years after Martinko was killed.
Delaware County Sheriff John Leclere said authorities “don’t have any reason to suspect (Burns) in either case.”
Searching for justice
In September 1986, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected claims made by Martinko’s father that the shopping centre was negligent because it did not provide “reasonable security” for his daughter, the Register reported at the time.
By the time of Burns’ arrest, both of Martinko’s parents had been gone for decades: Martinko’s father died in 1995 and her mother in 1998.
“One of the areas that continues to tug at my heart,” Cedar Rapids’ police chief said during a press conference last December, “was (Martinko’s sister) expressed how sad their parents passed away without knowing who killed their daughter, Michelle.”
Elizabeth Laymon, who was high school friends with Martinko, said she vividly remembers the day classmates sobbed after they learned of the stabbing. Laymon said she and Martinko were in a self-defence class together, but added that “no amount of self-defence could have saved her from that.”
During an interview with the Des Moines Register, Laymon called the arrest “amazing” news and said she was relieved.
“I am thrilled for her sister, Janelle, and wish her parents were alive to see this,” Laymon said. “I am happy Michelle finally gets justice.”
Martinko’s family in a statement last December credited “the work of several generations of Cedar Rapids uniformed police and detectives in bringing Mr Burns to justice. From the leadership on down, they never gave up.”
Preparing for trial
District Associate Judge Casey D. Jones set Burns’ bond at $5 million (AU $7.5 million) on December 20, 2018.
“This was a brutal, violent, horrendous crime,” Linn County Assistant Attorney Mike Harris said at the time.
Burns pleaded not guilty in January. His trial was most recently set to begin October 14, but was delayed after Burns’ defence team requested additional time to review new evidence and witnesses. Nicholas Maybanks, the Linn County prosecutor handling the case, did not resist the continuance, court records show.
Maybanks also choose not to resist the defence’s request that the trial be moved out of the eastern Iowa county where the alleged crime took place. Burns’ attorneys claimed the case has been surrounded by “pervasive and prejudicial pretrial publicity” and has been in the public eye for the past four decades, court filings show.
District Judge Fae Hoover on December 9 agreed to move the trial to the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport. Jury selection will commence February 10.
original source: Msn