Forty years after the December 1979 stabbing death of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko, her killer has been brought to justice.

Jerry Lynn Burns

Jerry Lynn Burns

A jury on Monday found Jerry Lynn Burns guilty of premeditated first-degree murder, a case that Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said has “haunted our community for decades,” the Register reported Feb. 24.

“We don’t exactly know the whys and some of the details, but we definitely know who did it, and that was terribly important to us,” Janelle Stonebraker, Michelle Martinko’s older sister, said after the verdict was read. “I wish my parents could be here to see this.”

Martinko’s father, Albert Martinko, died in 1995. His wife, Janet, passed away in 1998.

Michelle Martinko

Michelle Martinko

Police found Martinko’s body Dec. 20, 1979 — her face and chest stabbed repeatedly — in her family’s tan 1972 Buick 4-door in Cedar Rapids’ Westdale Mall parking lot. The Kennedy High School senior had driven to the newly opened mall after a school choir banquet to pick up a coat her mother left on layaway.

Burns was arrested and charged with first-degree murder Dec. 19, 2018 — the 39th anniversary of Martinko’s death — after DNA evidence on a straw tied him to the nearly four-decade-old crime.

A DNA profile of Martinko’s killer was first developed in 2006 and then uploaded to the national Combined DNA Index System — known as CODIS — but did not produce a match from known felons, Cedar Rapids investigator Matt Denlinger said in December 2018 after Burns’ arrest. Ten years after developing the DNA profile, investigators enlisted the Virginia company, Parabon NanoLabs, to generate images of what Martinko’s killer may have looked like.

Investigators narrowed their suspects down to three Iowa brothers after turning to GEDmatch, a commercial genetic genealogy site, and then the DNA on a straw Burns left behind at a Manchester Pizza Ranch. 

Full coverage of Michelle Martinko’s slaying, DNA evidence and the 2020 murder trial available at The Des Moines Register and The Cedar Rapids Gazette.

The seven women and five men on the Scott County jury reached the guilty verdict in less than three hours.

We Remember: Upcoming Cold Case Anniversaries

We remember upcoming cold case anniversaries and birthdays the victims would have celebrated.

Hulda Fischer Hulda Emma Fischer
84 YOA
Maquoketa, IA
Jackson County
Case # 75-00175
February 25, 1975
William Rogers William Rogers
Age at Report: 46
Missing From:
North English, IA
Missing Since:
February 25, 2001
Kevin Griebel Kevin Lee Griebel
Age at Report: 36
Missing From:
Maquoketa, IA
February 26, 2004
Thomas Adkins Thomas Adkins, 20
Van Buren Wildlife Area
Douds; Van Buren County
Killed Sept. 14, 1985
Would have celebrated 64th birthday March 2
Gloria Slump yearbook photo Gloria Fay Slump
24 YOA
Council Bluffs, IA
Pottawattamie County
Case # 67-00368
March 3, 1967
Ricky Morehouse Ricky Morehouse
165 Cherry St.
Kent, IA
Union County
March 3, 2001
Cyrus Hicks Cyrus “C.J.” Hicks
24 YOA
2907 Boston Ave.
Des Moines, IA
Polk County
March 3, 2011
Gary Sebek Gary Eugene Sebek
20 YOA
1609 Main St.
Hamburg, IA
Fremont County
March 4, 1968
Aaron Pate age-progressed Aaron M. Pate, 17
Reported Missing to:
Keokuk County SO
March 16, 1992
Would be celebrating 45th birthday March 4