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Attorney: Law is fairly clear on DNA evidence in Martinko case

Michelle Martinko is pictured in an undated photo (KCRG File)
Michelle Martinko is pictured in an undated photo (KCRG File)(KCRG)
Published: Jan. 14, 2020 at 10:47 PM CST
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A suppression hearing throughout DNA evidence in a 40-year-old murder case is being held later this week, but one local defense attorney said the evidence shouldn’t be thrown out.

Jerry Burns faces first-degree murder charges in the 1979 slaying of Michelle Martinko. It wasn’t until one of his relatives took a DNA test that detectives were able to get a crack in the case. Detectives said they followed Burns to a restaurant, waited for him to finish eating, and drive away before they took a straw that he had used for evidence.

“It’s interesting, it’s a cold case, and it’s a young woman that was murdered 40 years ago that has gone unsolved until recently,” Ray Scheetz, a Cedar Rapids-based defense attorney, said.

Scheetz is not involved with the Martinko case but has been following it in the media. He said this particular piece of evidence is key in solving the case; without it, he believes there wouldn’t be anything else to go on.

“This is probably the most important piece of evidence,” Scheetz said. “The attorneys for the accused person, Mr. Burns, said that he had an expectation of privacy in that straw. He said that when he threw that straw away and police seized it, they did so without a warrant or asking Burns for the property.”

Having worked cases where DNA is the key part of the evidence, he said the law is pretty clear.

“Once he left the straw there and threw it away, he’s giving up any right to it,” Scheetz said.

The judge will have the final say in what happens with the evidence following the suppression hearing on Thursday, January 16, 2020.

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