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“Cedar Rapids never left us”, 41-years later Martinko’s family finds answers


SCOTT COUNTY, Iowa (KWWL) -- 41-years after the slaying of her sister, Janelle and her husband John Stonebaker sat in court as the jury read their verdict, guilty.

Jerry Burns, of Manchester, was found guilty of 1st-degree murder for the 1979 stabbing of Michelle Martinko in the Westdale Mall parking lot.

It's the closure Janelle and Michelle's parents never got during their lifetime. The Martinko parents died during the 40 plus year investigation.

“We left Cedar Rapids but Cedar Rapids never left us,” said John Stonebaker outside the Scott County Courthouse.

As the jury read their verdict aloud in the courtroom after just a three-hour deliberation, the Stonebaker's let out a sigh of relief and burst into tears.

“It was indicative of the strength of the case, how the jury came back so quickly. There wasn’t a lot of questions in their mind in spite of the defense by his attorney, the verdict was the right one and it came back quickly," said John, "I was very pleased."

First-degree murder is punishable by life in prison. Burns' may now spend the rest of life behind bars after a more than two-week trial.

“Generations of detectives stayed with it and then Michelle’s friends helped keep it alive," said Janelle, "It was really quite an effort, a remarkable effort”  

While the family has spent 40 plus years searching for answers the Stonebakers said they won't hold a big celebration. They're conscious of the fact that this news came at a cost for another family, the Burns'.

“It is a very sad thing for their family for sure. They had no idea and I think about the type of person he is that he could have really committed something quite like that and then gone in and just lived his life,” said Janelle.

Members of Burns' family were in the court as the jury read their final verdict, however, none of them testified on his behalf.

“They didn’t ask for this. They’re good people. They’re going to have to mend their lives as we have mended ours. It’s just the natural consequence of what Jerry Burns not only did to himself and our family but to his own family,” said John.

Burns' denied being at the mall the night of the murder during initial interviews with police. He did not take the stand in his own defense.

A sentencing hearing will be scheduled in approximately six weeks.

Ashley Neighbor

Reporter, Cedar Rapids

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