Jerry Burns sentenced to life in prison without parole for the murder of Michelle Martinko

Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 2:46 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Jerry Burns was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Friday for the murder of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in December of 1979.

His lawyers filed a motion for a new trial based on new evidence, the judge denied that motion. Burns will also have to pay $150,000 to the estate of Martinko.

John Stonebraker, Martinko’s brother in law, stated in a video, ”It helps to know that his life will be a sad little cell. And that Mr. Burns will never smell the rich, freshly plowed earth of Deleware County.” He added later on, “Janelle and I are thankful in another way. We are thankful that she fought so hard. Michelle played a critical role in identifying her own killer. The defensive wounds on her hand show it. She fought so hard that she was able to deflect the killer’s knife so that he stabbed himself leaving the blood that caught him. In a very real way, Michelle became her own best witness. Still, Mr. Jerry Burns was clever enough to steal 39 years of freedom he didn’t deserve and he knows it.”

Jerry Burns was found guilty by the jury of first-degree murder on Monday, February 24, 2020. The sentencing was originally set for April but got delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The verdict in the trial of Jerry Burns was reached on the same day that deliberations in the trial began, only lasting around three hours. Prosecutors proved to a jury that Burns stabbed Martinko several times inside her family’s car outside Westdale Mall. Investigators used DNA gathered at the crime scene, and then decades later from a straw that Burns had discarded at a restaurant, to connect Burns to the crime. He was arrested in December 2018 on the anniversary of the Martinko’s death.

On Friday, February 21, Burns’ attorney called for a mistrial after a prosecutor asked the witness if it was Burns’ blood that connects him to the crime scene. His attorney argued the prosecution shouldn’t have said definitively that it was Burns’ blood. That request was denied by the judge.

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