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Michelle Martinko's sister, brother-in-law react to murder conviction, as decades-old cold case is closed

Michelle Martinko was found dead in the Westdale Mall parking lot in Dec. 1979. (Courtesy:...
Michelle Martinko was found dead in the Westdale Mall parking lot in Dec. 1979. (Courtesy: Cedar Rapids Police)(KCRG)
Published: Feb. 25, 2020 at 5:10 PM CST
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After more than 40 years of searching, the cold case murder of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko is now solved.

Now, Martinko's sister and brother-in-law said seeing the conclusion of her killer's trial is a relief.

. Burns was convicted of killing Martinko outside the Westdale Mall on December 19, 1979.

Every day for more than two weeks, John and Janelle Stonebraker waited in a courtroom in the Scott County Courthouse. As the evidence came in, and an arrest was made in the case, the two felt they knew who killed their sister more than four decades ago.

A Scott County jury agreed.

"While we in a very biased way thought it was open and shut, we didn't know what anybody else would think," John Stonebraker said.

As the trial began in Davenport, Janelle Stonebraker remembered how she felt.

"To realize that we are finally going to have somebody look at the case in a legal way and that we might find the killer," Janelle Stonebraker said.

Janelle Stonebraker is Martinko's sister. She and Martinko were 12 years apart at the time of Martinko's death in 1979.

For her and her husband, listening to testimony showed a side of Martinko they did not get to see.

"There was a large part of her life that we started to learn about through her friends and what they were telling us," Janelle Stonebraker said. "It was really wonderful."

But some of what was explained in the courtroom were shared memories they will never forget.

"I'm not sure about anything that the prosecutor or the defense lawyer said, but one of the witnesses described Michelle's... her goodbye smile," John Stonebraker said. "And we knew that smile."

When the Stonebrakers heard the guilty verdict from the jury, they explained it brought a sense of relief, but it was not a closure point.

"To me, closure is what you do to a door," John Stonebraker said. "And I don't know that closure is the right word for what we feel. I think we feel a sense of justice. We still feel a sense of loss. We'll never get over that. So closure to me doesn't really seem like a value that we have or experienced. It's the closing of the chapter for sure. But the loss will still remain."

Janelle Stonebraker said the time in court told a story that her sister-in-law said was finally told through Martinko herself.

"In a way, Michelle was there in that trial," Janelle Stonebraker said. "She was there because she fought so hard, and she struggled, and she fought to the degree that she caused the killer to cut himself. And with that cut, he left his blood. And with that blood, he left his DNA. Which solved the mystery."

"In other words, Michelle caught her own killer," John Stonebraker said.