40 year case comes to a close

Anna Schenkel , Assistant News Editor

After 40 years, a case is closed.

On Monday, February 24, 2020, Jerry Lynn Burns wasconvicted of first-degree murderconcerning the death of Michelle Martinko, who was 18 at the time of the crime. Martinko was stabbed to death in the parking lot of Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids on December 19, 1979.

Burns was arrested at his business in Manchester, Iowa, on December 19, 2018, exactly 39 years after Martinko had been killed. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

After attending a show choir banquet, the Kennedy High School senior had driven to Westdale Mall to buy a coat, according to her parents. Martinko was found on the passenger seat floor of her parents’ car, stabbed at least eight times. Police discovered her dead on December 20, 1979, at 4 a.m.

According to an article from USA Today, Wayne Jerman, the Cedar Rapids Police Chief, said, “It was a case that has haunted our community for decades.”

Although over 200 letters and phone calls were received by the police soon after Martinko’s death, every lead was a dead end. Police attempted the process of specialized DNA phenotyping, which could have helped predict possible appearance from evidence, but the portraits produced by thecompany also offered no help.

Case evidence in 2006 was procured from where the killer’s  blood was found on Martinko’s clothes and gear shift knob. By using this along with newer technology, the Cedar Rapids police had the opportunity to create new profiles for the killer. DNA genetic genealogical research then narrowed down the suspect pool even more, which included Burns.

Matthew Denlinger, an investigator, saw Burns drink out of a straw and retrieved it from where Burns left it behind while eating out. A state crime lab analyst found the DNA on the straw to match the blood from the crime scene.

After his arrest, Burns, age 66, could not offer a plausible explanation for why his DNA had been found in the car.

“We don’t exactly know the whys and some of the details, but we definitely know who did it and that was terribly important to us,” Janelle Stonebraker, the older sister of Martinko, said.

A guilty verdict was delivered to Burns in less than four hours. He is predicted to be sent to be sentenced in four weeks.