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$5 M Cash Bond Set For Suspected Murderer In Martinko Case

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Kate Payne / IPR
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Judge Casey Jones speaks via teleconference with Jerry Lynn Burns, who faces a first degree murder charge in the death of Michelle Martinko, 39 years after she was killed.

A judge has set a $5 million cash-only bond for a man suspected of killing a Cedar Rapids high school student 39 years ago. The suspect made his first appearance in Linn County court Thursday.

64 year old Jerry Lynn Burns of Manchester, Iowa has been charged with first degree murder in the death of 18 year old Michelle Martinko. Officers arrested Burns Wednesday, exactly 39 years after Martinko was stabbed to death in the parking lot of the Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids.

"This was a brutal, violent and horrendous crime...This is a crime that has had a unique and profound impact on the Cedar Rapids community and the community needs to know it's being kept safe." - Prosecutor Michael Harris

The case has haunted area residents for decades, after Martinko was found dead in her family's Buick Electra while on a shopping trip for a winter coat. In Linn County Court Thursday, prosecutor Michael Harris said the murder has had a deep impact on the community. 

“This was a brutal, violent and horrendous crime. This was an 18 year old victim who was stabbed repeatedly in a vehicle at Westdale Mall. This is a crime that has had a unique and profound impact on the Cedar Rapids community and the community needs to know it’s being kept safe,” Harris said.

Harris requested a $5 million cash-only bond, which Judge Casey Jones honored. 

“There are significant concerns about the defendant as a flight risk. He has evaded apprehension for 39 years," Harris said. "He also owns a business. And given his age, he would have resources and the knowledge to run."

Burns faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted on the charge. Court records do not list an attorney for Burns.

"The family never gave up hope that this case would be solved...This Police Department and our investigators never gave up on this case either." - Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman

Judge Jones told Burns to not speak about the case until he has legal representation. 

"I just advise you again to not speak with anybody about these charges until you have an opportunity to speak with your attorney," Jones said. 

Years after the killing was considered a cold case, investigators were able to tie Burns to the murder using facial profiles developed from DNA found at the crime scene. The Virginia based-company Parabon NanoLabs used DNA evidence recovered from the vehicle to predict physical characteristics, which were compiled into portraits of what the suspect could look like. Investigators released those images to the public in 2017, and have been using the DNA analysis to winnow down a field of suspects to Jerry Lynn Burns.

In a Wednesday night press conference with reporters, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said investigators believe the blood found at the scene matches Burns' own DNA.

"The police department later collected covert DNA from a subject. It was sent to the [Department of Criminal Investigation] laboratory for analysis. The laboratory found that the collected DNA was a match to the DNA from the blood that was found on Michelle's clothing and consistent with the DNA profile developed from blood also found elsewhere in the vehicle," Jerman said. 

According to court filings, Burns has "denied being present at the crime scene on the night of the murder" but "could not offer any plausible explanation why his DNA would be found at the crime scene."

Jerman said the developments in the case and the arrest of the suspect show his officers will go to great lengths to solve crimes in the community. 

"The family never gave up hope that this case would be solved," Jehrman said. "[T]his Police Department and our investigators never gave up on this case either."

A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for the morning of December 28th at the Linn County Courthouse.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter