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Man accused of killing Michelle Martinko takes the stand in his own defense as evidence suppression hearing concludes

Jerry Burns, left, takes the stand in his own defense for an evidence suppression hearing on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020 in the murder case related to the death of Michelle Martinko in December 1979. (Randy Dircks/KCRG)
Jerry Burns, left, takes the stand in his own defense for an evidence suppression hearing on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020 in the murder case related to the death of Michelle Martinko in December 1979. (Randy Dircks/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Jan. 24, 2020 at 6:41 PM CST
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For the first time, the man accused of murdering Cedar Rapids woman Michelle Martinko more than 40 years ago answered questions in court.

66-year-old Jerry Burns of Manchester is accused of stabbing and killing high school student Michelle Martinko while she was out at the Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids in December 1979.

Friday was the third and final day of a hearing to suppress key evidence against him, including potentially linking Burns' DNA to the crime scene as well as search history on his computer.

Burns' attorney Leon Spies called Burns as a witness, testifying how he felt he should have had an attorney prior to his arrest in late 2018. Burns claimed he directly requested or implied his desire for an attorney after he agreed to talk with police at his business in Manchester.

Prosecutors argue he did not formally request a lawyer and was free to leave at that point. They argued even after Burns mentioned needing an attorney, he continued answering questions.

Spies argued on behalf of Burns, that was not what happened in this case, as they both read from a transcript of an interview between police investigators and Burns prior to his arrest in December 2018.

"You are asked by Investigator [Matthew] Denlinger: 'Do you ever remember hearing how she died? If I collected some DNA evidence today, would there be any chance you would match the DNA we had?' And what was your response?"

"I said no," Burns said. "I would just assume if you're going to do that, have a lawyer."

"Was that your request to speak with a lawyer?" Spies said.

"I believe so at the time," Burns said.

Prosecutors argued at the time of the interview, Burns was not under arrest so had not been read Miranda rights. They said Burns was free to leave at any time and kept answering questions even after suggesting he might want an attorney.

Burns said he did that because he was not familiar with police questioning procedure

"Basically you know if they were gonna, if I was under arrest read me my rights, or you know whatever in that instance," Burns said. "I don't have a lot of experience being arrested."

"And when you next said, 'if you're going to get that involved, probably a lawyer,'" Spies read. "At that point did you think that they were going to stop asking you questions?"

"Well, again, I would expect them to give me the option," Burns said.

The prosecution cited an exchange in the transcript of the interview when Denlinger tells Burns if he wants a lawyer, "that's completely up to you." Burns argued that Denlinger "didn't explain that comment."

Burns was arrested that same day at the end of the interview.

Burns' trial is set to begin next month, but the judge did not make a decision on whether or not to suppress the electronic or DNA evidence. The judge said she will render a decision "as quickly as possible."

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