From the crime to conviction, a timeline of events in the murder of Michelle Martinko

Michelle Martinko was found dead in the Westdale Mall parking lot in Dec. 1979. (Courtesy: Cedar Rapids Police)
Michelle Martinko was found dead in the Westdale Mall parking lot in Dec. 1979. (Courtesy: Cedar Rapids Police)(KCRG)
Published: Feb. 24, 2020 at 9:34 PM CST
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Michelle Martinko's murder went without an arrest for 39 years. Investigators stayed on the case over the decades, with developments occurring incrementally. This led to an arrest, and eventual conviction, of Jerry Burns.

December 19, 1979

At approximately 6:30 p.m.: Michelle Martinko drove her family's 1972 Buick Electra to Westdale Mall. She had left a school banquet, and intended to purchase a new winter coat.

December 20, 1979

At around 2:00 a.m.: Martinko's parents reported Michelle missing to police.

At around 4:00 a.m.: Police discovered the Buick in the northeast part of the Westdale Mall. She had stab wounds to the face and chest. Investigators at the time concluded the homicide to be "personal in nature."

October 2, 2006

Investigators announced that they had discovered new DNA evidence in the case. They uploaded the new evidence into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). This database matches samples from unsolved crimes to samples from convicted offenders. No match was made through CODIS.

December 16, 2013

Cedar Rapids police received a tip through Linn County Crime Stoppers, which led to a possible suspect. The DNA of the suspect did not match the DNA from the crime scene they had on file from 2006.

April 10, 2014

Police issue a press release to ask for the tipster from December to contact them again, saying the information he provided was credible and that they would most likely be able to contribute more information.

May 16, 2017

Investigators used services from Parabon NanoLabs to do DNA phenotyping, a process that gives an estimate of physical appearance and ancestry using DNA samples. They used this process to create facial composites,


Since May 2017

Through September 2017, authorities had collected more than 100 new tips for the case. None of the tips led to an arrest. DNA evidence ruled out more than 100 people from the investigation.

December 19, 2018

Based on DNA evidence that investigators collected covertly, they ls question 64-year-old Jerry Lynn Burns at his workplace in Manchester, where he denied committing the alleged killing. He was unable to offer an alternative explanation for why his DNA would have been found at the crime scene.

Officials announced


January 25, 2019

Burns appeared in court and

. He had


April 16, 2019

to make the DNA match that led to Burns’ arrest. Using the blood collected from the crime scene and better DNA matching technology, investigators were able to make a connection to a possible second cousin of Burns. From there, they were able to draw relevant DNA links that led back to Burns. Officers then covertly collected the straw, one of over 125 other DNA samples collected. Only the straw with Burns’ DNA was a match.

October 2019

Attorneys for Burns request a delay in the trial, receiving no resistance from prosecutors.


December 19, 2019

after his attorneys argued he would not be able to get a fair trial or jury selection process in Linn County. Prosecutors agreed with the motion for a change of venue.

January 24, 2020

to testify during a suppression hearing. His lawyers wanted the DNA evidence that the prosecution was relying on, as well as information gathered in a search of his internet history on his computer, to be thrown out. Burns claimed he was unfamiliar with how police questioning works and that his right to an attorney was not adequately explained to him. It would be the only time he would testify in person during court proceedings.

February 5, 2020

. Expert testimony that the prosecution intended to use to connect that evidence to intent and motive in the killing was also barred.

February 6, 2020

The judge rules that the DNA evidence gathered from a discarded drinking straw containing Burns’ DNA

. This was a key decision in the case, as the prosecution’s case relied heavily on the DNA link to place Burns at the crime scene.

February 10, 2020

, a process that


February 12, 2020

from prosecution witnesses are given in the trial. Prosecutors emphasized the DNA evidence, saying the odds of it being incorrect were astronomical. Spies argued that there were issues in the handling of evidence which meant it didn’t lead to his client. The witnesses were there to establish some background on Martinko’s character.

February 13, 2020

who had handled the Martinko case over the year to explain what they saw at the crime scene at the time. The retired officers described the amount of blood in Martinko’s vehicle, and where they gathered it from, as well as autopsy details.

February 14, 2020

, describing the way the evidence was handled and stored in the decades between the murder of Martinko and the arrest of Burns. Defense attorneys pressed back, suggesting that the evidence was not appropriately handled which could have led to contamination.

February 17, 2020

Prosecution witnesses, including Cedar Rapids Police investigator Matthew Denlinger and an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation criminalist,

. Denlinger talked about the use of the DNA phenotyping technology, as well as making links in Burns’ family tree, in addition to pushing back on the defense’s assertions of mishandling of evidence. The criminalist, Michael Schmit, talked about the process of matching the DNA gathered from the restaurant straw to Burns.

February 18, 2020

. In it, he denied being at the crime scene in 1979 but couldn’t explain how his DNA could have gotten there.

February 19, 2020

Testimony from the prosecution wrapped up,

in the back seat of a police car after his arrest. The video has long periods of silence, but it shows Burns wondering aloud whether he could have blocked out the memory of the crime.

February 20, 2020

It’s the defense’s turn, and Spies called only one witness:

. Spence said it was not his opinion that Burns’ DNA got to the crime scene from a secondary transfer, but left open the possibility when pressed by Spies. The defense rested without Burns testifying.

February 21, 2020

, a criminalist from the Iowa DCI, in order to push back against the previous day’s testimony from Spence, saying the state lab’s handling of the evidence had not led to any undue contamination. Spies moved for a mistrial after objecting to the way one of the prosecutors asked a question about Burns’ blood.

February 24, 2020

Both sides presented closing arguments during the first part of the day.

, and word of a verdict came shortly before 4:00 p.m.


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