New Details About Jerry Lynn Burns, The Man Arrested For The 1979 Murder Of Michelle Martinko

Photo: Cedar Rapids Police Department
New Details About Jerry Lynn Burns, The Man Arrested For The 1979 Murder Of Michelle Martinko

Exactly 39 years after Michelle Martinko's body was found, DNA evidence led to the arrest of a Manchester man who was charged with her 1979 murder.

Jerry Lynn Burns, 64, was arrested Wednesday and accused of fatally stabbing the 18-year-old, whose body was found in her parents' 1972 Buick Electra in the Westdale Mall parking lot nearly four decades ago. He was charged with first-degree murder Thursday and ordered a $5 million cash-only bail.

Burns was questioned by police at his place of work and "denied committing the offense but could offer no plausible explanation why his DNA would be found at the crime scene," according to the Cedar Rapids Police Department

Martinko drove the family's car to a local mall to buy a coat after a school banquet on Dec. 19, 1979. She was reported missing at 2 a.m. and police found her dead in the mall parking lot two hours later. She had been repeatedly stabbed in the face and chest and wounds to her hands showed she fought her attacker, the medical examiner's office said.

Police concluded the murder was likely personal based on the number of stab wounds, particularly to Martino's face. No fingerprints or weapons were found at the crime scene and the case soon went cold.

The first noticeable progress came in 2006, a criminal complaint released Thursday shows. A sample of the killer's DNA found in Martinko's car was submitted to a lab for processing, police said, and a DNA profile was created. It was then uploaded to the national Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, but did not match any known felons.

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In 2016, law enforcement enlisted Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia company that uses little-known advanced genetic genealogy technology to predict an individual's physical features and ancestry, to assist with the case. The DNA company generated images of what the killer could potentially look like and, despite tons of tips, a suspect was not identified. 

 

 

A new online DNA database allowed the company to hone in on specific suspects by name earlier this year. According to Parabon Chief Executive Officer Steven Armentrout, the company is able to extract genetic markers from the suspect's DNA provided by police and then uploads it to GEDMatch, a public genealogy database. The database allows the public to submit their own DNA data from sites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe to find relatives.

“You can upload your file and do a query, asking, ‘Who are my genetic matches?’” Armentrout told The Gazette. “If those people have allowed their data to be publicly compared, you’ll get a listing.”

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Because GEDMatch is open to the public, law enforcement is able to use it as well.

“You know your suspect, your unknown, is someone on that list,” Armentrout said, adding that Parabon supplies police with “a very scientific list of leads.”

This type of technology is so new that some question how well its use will stand up in court, but Armentrout said it is just a stepping stone used to produce a suspect's name.

 

 

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“The detectives will go build a case like they always build a case,” he said. “They will use traditional DNA matching to prove there is a 100 percent match.”

This new technique was first put in the spotlight at the beginning of the year when it was used to catch the Golden State Killer. 

Chief Wayne Jerman said Wednesday that this case just shows the hard work and dedication of the police involved. He is glad Martinko's family can finally have closure.

“This case is a prime example that members of this department never gave up and they never will give up on any crime that has been committed against the members of this community,” Jerman said. “The tenacity and dedication demonstrated by these investigators and officers, along with the ongoing assistance and direction of the Linn County Attorney’s Office is why we are here tonight and why we can close this … tragic case that has been haunting this community for 39 years.”

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Sarah Gangraw writes about all things news, entertainment and crime. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.