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Defense explores flooding, prosecutors push forensics as Burns trial continues

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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWWL) - Week two of the murder trial of Jerry Burns started Monday and again focused on the DNA evidence in the case.

Burns is accused of killing Kennedy High School senior Michelle Martinko in Cedar Rapids more than 40 years ago.

Burns' defense attorney has questioned the integrity of evidence obtained in 2018, which identified Burns as a prime suspect, since the trials inception. On Monday, the devastating Flood of 2008 was a focal point of his argument.

“It smelled like the flood,” Cedar Rapids Police Investigator Matt Denlinger said about an evidence bag when pressed by Leon Spies, Burns' attorney, in cross-examination.

Spies asked Denlinger repeatedly about discolorations and mold spots possibly present on the dress.

"It looks like the outer paper has been either wet or sat in a humid room for a while," Denlinger said when looking at an old photo of an evidence bag with the dress investigators found Martinko in.

Current and former investigators recounted ways they followed three brothers in the Burns family, eventually collecting their DNA by used straws and trash they'd thrown out.

Doug Larison, a lead investigator in the case until 2015, called DNA found on the car's gear shift and DNA scrapped from the back of Martinko's dress a "match" Monday morning.

Burns' attorney felt this was an overstep and asked Larison to rephrase his statement.

"They were consistent," Larison said. "The profile on the dress was also in blood. So, from that, it just confirmed my belief that the killer stabbed Michelle to death and cut himself, probably cut his hand and left his blood at the scene in two different locations."

Denlinger, who took over for Larison in 2015, relied on notes and briefings from Larison to get caught up with the case five years ago. When the State attempted to enter those notes into evidence, the defense motioned to block it, calling it "hearsay" or "unverified".

Judge Fae Hoover didn't immediately make a decision on that challenge, saying she needed more time to examine precedents brought up by the State.

Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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