After denied mistrial motion, testimony in Michelle Martinko murder case concludes

Paul Bush testifies at first degree-murder trial of Jerry Burns at the Scott County Courthouse...
Paul Bush testifies at first degree-murder trial of Jerry Burns at the Scott County Courthouse on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. Burns is accused of killing then 18-year-old Michelle Martinko outside the Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids in December 19, 1979. (Pool)(KCRG)
Published: Feb. 21, 2020 at 5:37 PM CST
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The trial for a man accused of killing a Cedar Rapids teenager more than 40 years ago is nearing its conclusion.

66-year-old Jerry Burns was back in court Friday after he was accused of killing 18-year-old Michelle Martinko outside the Westdale Mall in December 1979.

Prosecutors called only one witness, but that questioning took longer than expected- after Burns' attorney said the prosecution was out of line and asked for a mistrial.

Paul Bush has been with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation for 38 years, and he has served as a Criminalist Supervisor in the Iowa DCI crime lab for nearly a decade. He said he is very familiar with the practices of handling and testing evidence at the state level- and he spoke in contradiction of Thursday's witness, Dr. Michael Spence, a self-defined forensic DNA consultant.

Spence had brought up concerns over potential DNA contamination based on how certain evidence was stored. Bush explained the way things were tested, collected, and stored, was nothing out of the ordinary.

"We try and be very careful that we don't cross-contaminate items," Bush said. "So in this case, I think it was the victim's clothing, there was a dress, I know there was underwear, there was a scarf, I can't remember what else, but they were all packaged together. So we would look at those wholistically as far as foreign material that may be present on those items."

Bush spoke in support of the findings from the DCI crime lab- connecting Burns to the crime scene where Michelle Martinko died in December 1979.

"No other foreign DNA profiles were developed except for profiles that again, matched the DNA, well I would say the deduced known profile of Michelle Martinko, which was on the dress to begin with, and the only other profile that was developed," Bush said. "Which was a male profile that was consistent with the profile of Jerry Burns."

Burns' attorney Leon Spies took issue with how the prosecution worded a question; Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks asked Bush a question about if it was Burns' blood that connects him to the crime scene. Spies argued putting the idea that it was Jerry Burns' blood is the equivalent of "ringing a bell" in front of the jury "that cannot be un-rung."

Spies asked immediately to rule the case a mistrial.

The prosecution obviously disagreed.

"There is ample and overwhelming evidence given the state's presentation of testimony in this case that Jerry Burns' blood was at the crime scene on Michelle Martinko's dress," Maybanks said.

The judge denied the motion for a mistrial, but asked Maybanks to rephrase his question.

After a back and forth between Spies and Maybanks, Bush gave as straightforward an answer as he could.

"We can't say exactly or confirm that there was blood," Bush said. "The screening test indicated the presence of blood on stain F5. And again, the major profile developed was a male profile."

Spies still casts doubt on Bush's testimony, arguing it could have been any other source of DNA ranging from saliva, sweat, or skin cells.

All that remains now are closing arguments from the legal teams, and then the jury will be left to determine a verdict. Court will resume on Monday at the Scott County Courthouse starting at 9 a.m.