Jerry Lynn Burns was arrested on December 19, 2018 and charged in the December 19, 1979 murder of Michelle Martinko in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Martinko’s body was found inside her car in the Westdale Mall parking lot, where she had gone to purchase a new winter coat. Her family went looking for her when she failed to come home that evening. Martinko had been stabbed several times in the face and chest. Blood not belonging to Martinko was also found in the vehicle and is thought to have come from the perpetrator when he cut himself in the stabbing attack.
A DNA profile of the suspect was obtained from the blood found at the crime scene. The FGG investigation was performed by Parabon Nanolabs. The initial confirmation was made by police surveillance followed by the surreptitious sampling of a straw that Burns had used. Police then obtained a warrant to take a buccal swab from Burns to obtain a forensic DNA profile.
Published accounts indicate that about 3 distant relatives of Burns voluntarily provided their DNA to officers to help establish the identify of Martinko’s killer by developing their family tree, a process known as targeted kinship testing. It appears that two siblings of Burns had their DNA tested as well, eliminating them from the investigation.
In February 2020, Burns was convicted by a jury in Linn County, Iowa of first-degree murder in the death of Martinko. He has appealed and asked for a new trial. His attorneys have challenged both the adverse admissions Burns made to officers on his arrest, as well as the use of FGG. Defence attorneys filed a motion claiming that the use of Burns’ family members’ DNA is a violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Section 3 of the Defence’s motion for a new trial states that “the searches and seizures leading to the discovery of his DNA profile and that of his family violated his rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Burns appealed his conviction to the Iowa District Court decision to the Supreme Court of Iowa. Burns claimed that the straw belonged to him at the time it was collected by the police, and that he had an expectation of privacy in the straw. Burns claims that the police violated article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution: which proscribes warrantless searches that violate a defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The ACLU has joined in the appeal, which is pending. A decision had not been handed down as of the end of 2022.
On March 31, 2023, the Iowa Supreme Court denied Burns’ appeal in a 5-2 decision, holding that neither the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution nor the Constitution of Iowa required police to obtain a warrant prior to sampling the DNA Burns left on the straw because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in abandoned DNA. This judgment follows cases in several states that uphold the legality of the surreptitious sampling of DNA from suspects.
Police took DNA from over 125 suspects during the decades the case was open. Since the crime took place in a small community, numerous local men were suspects. In 1980, investigators produced a composite sketch of an unknown man produced from a witness that had been placed under hypnosis.
Davis, Tyler J. “Use of Genealogy in Iowa Cold Case Conviction of Jerry Lynn Burns was Unconstitutional, Motion for New Trial Says.” Des Moines Register, June 16, 2020. Accessed December 12, 2020. https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2020/06/16/jerry-burns-investigation-conviction-unconstitutional-michelle-martinko/3197966001/.
Iowa v. Burns. Motion for a New Trial. In the District Court of Iowa in and for Linn County. No. FECR129781. Accessed December 12, 2020. https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2020/06/16/jerry-burns-investigation-conviction-unconstitutional-michelle-martinko/3197966001/.
Iowa v. Burns. Appellant’s Final Brief. Supreme Court No. 20-1150. Accessed January 13, 2023. https://www.iowacourts.gov/courtcases/15314/briefs/4994/embedBrief.
Nozicka, Luke. “Police Collected DNA from Dozens While Investigating 1979 Killing of Michelle Martinko.” Des Moines Register, April 15, 2019. Accessed December 12, 2020. https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2019/04/15/michelle-martinko-jerry-burns-suspect-murder-homicide-cedar-rapids-iowa-dna-parabon-labs-cold-case/3476459002/.
Morris, William. “Supreme Court Affirms Jerry Burns’ Conviction in 1979 Michelle Martinko Murder.” Des Moines Register, March 31, 2023. Accessed April 9, 2023. https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2023/03/31/iowa-supreme-court-michelle-martinko-jerry-burns-dna-conviction/70064243007/.
Moudy, Shannon. “Police Search of DNA Behind Much of the Argument in Jerry Burns’ Appeal.” Iowa News Now, April 5, 2021. Accessed December 23, 2021. https://cbs2iowa.com/news/local/police-search-of-dna-behind-much-of-the-argument-in-jerry-burns-appeal.
Moulton, Jen. “Michelle Martinko’s Murder ‘Haunted’ the Cedar Rapids Community for 40 Years. Now, Her Suspected Killer is Set to Go on Trial.” Little Village, October 2, 2019. Accessed December 12, 2020. https://littlevillagemag.com/michelle-martinko-murder-trial/.