'This case has haunted the community for 39 years'; arrest made in Michelle Martinko murder

Published: Dec. 19, 2018 at 6:45 PM CST
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On the 39th anniversary of her brutal murder, Cedar Rapids police announced Wednesday an arrest in the Michelle Martinko case.

Jerry Lynn Burns, 64, was arrested Wednesday morning and is facing a first-degree murder charge in the case. Michelle Martinko was murdered in the parking lot at Cedar Rapids' Westdale Mall on the night of December 19, 1979. Her body was found early the next morning.

Officials said they were able to solve the cold case using DNA technology to develop a suspect profile. The initial sample was announced on Oct. 2, 2006 and was sent to the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. This database compares samples to the DNA of convicted offenders. No match was made through CODIS.

A covert DNA sample collected from a suspect by police was matched to blood found at the crime scene. With this evidence, investigators questioned 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. He will appear in Linn County Court Thursday morning.

Last year, Martinko's case had new breakthroughs. In May 2017, local and state authorities announced they had used DNA, recovered from the crime scene, to generate renderings of what the teen's killer might look like.

Decades old case affected the community

In 1979, authorities found Martinko’s body in the early morning hours of Dec. 20 with stab wounds to the face and chest. She was inside her family's Buick, parked at Westdale Mall. Investigators at the time concluded the homicide to be "personal in nature."

Elizabeth Laymon, a friend, and classmate of Martinko's remembered that day well.

"We went to school that day and it wasn't announced," Laymon said. "We all kind of found out through classes we were in. I'd sit through classes where people were crying and I didn't know why, until someone finally told me. The media showed up and then it was real."

This is an active and ongoing investigation.