Witnesses describe murder scene in trial of man accused of killing Michelle Martinko in 1979

Published: Feb. 13, 2020 at 7:29 PM CST
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Former investigators took the witness stand today for the trial of a man accused of killing a Cedar Rapids teenager more than 40 years ago.

66-year-old Jerry Burns is accused of first degree murder for the death of then 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in December 1979.

Today investigators explained not only how they conducted the investigation, but the cause of death. Every former police officer, as well as the doctor who originally performed the autopsy on Martinko's body, are now retired from the jobs they had back in December 1979. But they explained vivid memories of what happened that night, and then during the investigation into the death of Martinko.

The defense casted doubt on whether or not that investigation was handled properly, specifically as it relates to the handling of the evidence after it was stored in the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

Former Cedar Rapids Police Officers like James Kincaid took the stand Thursday- explaining the moment the investigation into the death of Martinko began in 1979.

"It appeared like it was an older woman, and my first thought was somebody's intoxicated and passed out in their car," Kincaid said.

Kincaid later said he further investigated, and then discovered "a lot of blood."

"I walked around the car to the passenger side front door, and I looked in and saw Michelle there. Covered in blood," Kincaid said.

Prosecutors say DNA found on Martinko's dress, and on the gear shift in Martinko's car, led to matching Jerry Burns to the crime scene. The defense, however, questioned how that evidence was handled. The prosecution and witnesses argued protocol was followed- and even former officers admit, they were confused by the questioning.

But it was expert testimony from Dr. Richard Fiester, who conducted the autopsy on Martinko, that the prosecution was counting on to explain Martinko's cause of death and other results of the autopsy.

"Blood was all over," Fiester said. "When she was bleeding, her heart was still pumping, there was a struggle."

Fiester testified about certain cuts and stab wounds Martinko had on her body, saying she ultimately died from a stab to her aorta, but showed multiple stab wounds consistent with trying to defend herself.

It was that struggle that prosecutors believe could not only have led a killer to cut themselves, but leave DNA behind- inside the car, on the dashboard, and on the gear shift.

Court is scheduled to resume Friday, Feb. 14 at 9 a.m. at the Scott County Courthouse, where the prosecution is expected to call more witnesses.

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