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Jerry Burns on Trial in Iowa Cold Case Murder of Michelle Martinko


Iowa man Jerry Burns, 66, is on trial as the suspect in the 1979 stabbing murder of Michelle Martinko, an 18-year-old high school student. Jury selection began on Monday and continued into Tuesday.

Here’s what you need to know about the case.

Burns’s trial was moved from Linn County, Iowa to Scott County, Iowa given the high-profile nature of this case. Martinko’s brutal murder remained unsolved for decades. But then, on Oct. 29, 2018, police carried out an operation similar the one that California authorities used to track down the Golden State Killer suspect.

Burns left a straw on table at a Pizza Ranch establishment and authorities seized this discarded DNA evidence covertly. They compared it to a blood sample recovered at the crime scene that had been uploaded to a genealogy database and partially profiled.

Authorities determined that the discarded DNA evidence was a match to the blood found on Martinko’s dress. The judge has allowed the straw to be used as evidence at trial.

Martinko was “repeatedly” stabbed in the face and chest in her family’s car outside of the Westdale Mall on December 19, 1979. Evidence showed that she fought back. Martinko went to the mall that day to buy a winter coat, but never returned home. There was no evidence of a robbery or sexual assault.

Burns was arrested on December 19, 2018–39 years later.

The defendant has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. Investigators say Burns “claimed he did not have any recollection of committing this crime,” but could not explain why his DNA showed up at the crime scene.

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.