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Opening statements given, witnesses called in trial of Jerry Burns, accused of killing Michelle Martinko

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Charles Seidel
Charles Seidel

DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWWL) -- Legal teams gave opening arguments and witnesses were called in day one of the trial of Jerry Burns, an Eastern Iowa man charged in a 40-year-old cold case murder.

Jerry Burns was arrested for the murder of Michelle Martinko in 2018 after Cedar Rapids police created a DNA profile from blood found on Martinko's dress.

"The evidence will show that investigators found their guy. Not in one place but two," Nick Maybanks said, a prosecuting attorney for The State of Iowa.

The Kennedy High School senior was killed on December 19, 1979, her body found in a family car in the Westdale Mall parking lot. Maybanks said investigators can place Burns at the scene with odds of one in 100 billion from blood on her dress.

Prosecutors also said DNA found on Martinko's car's gear stick places Burns at the scene with odds of roughly one in eleven hundred.

The trial was moved to Scott County due to pre-trial publicity.

Lawyers on both sides talked about the DNA evidence, the focal point of the trial. Burns' attorney tried to get that DNA evidence thrown out before the trial, saying it was collected without a warrant.

To display how the DNA case could easily be tainted, the defense talked jurors through their morning, reminding them of all the things they touched.

"In addition to the trails that we leave, we also cross trails with the people that we meet throughout the course of the day," Leon Spies said, an attorney for Burns.

Both sides announced plans to call forensic specialists to the stand at some point. The defense says their specialist will show that the DNA trail does not inevitably lead to Burns.

Witnesses recalled Martinko's personality, and what she was like in her final days.

"The goodbye smile; it's affected my entire life," Curtis Thomas said, a high school friend of Martinko who was working at the mall the night she was killed.

Several witnesses confirmed what Martinko was wearing that night, one remembered seeing her car after the mall closed; saying it looked out of place.

Burns' attorney pressed Charles Seidel, a boyfriend of Martinko's, about a 1981 interview. In that interview, Seidel told investigators that Martinko told him someone may have been following her after work the week before her death.

"There was no alarm bells going off in my mind that she was under any threat," Charles Seidel said, who was in a relationship with Martinko at the time.

The State says Martinko was killed by a complete stranger, which contributed to the 40-year delay in this case.

Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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