Man Convicted in High-Profile Iowa Murder Case Files New Appeal
In 2020, a long-standing cold case murder was closed in Iowa when Jerry Burns of Manchester was convicted of killing Michelle Martinko 39 years earlier.
Burns appeared at an appeal hearing before the Iowa Supreme Court last Friday, where his lawyers stated Burns had a "reasonable expectation of privacy", meaning police should have gotten a warrant to obtain a DNA sample from a drinking straw he tossed in the trash.
According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Burns’ DNA, found on the straw he discarded in the trash at a Pizza Ranch in Manchester, connected him to the fatal 1979 stabbing. He was arrested for Martinko's murder on December 19, 2018.
During his 2020 trial, Burns was sentenced to life without parole. Martinko's body was found on December 19, 1979, in her parents' Buick, which was parked near J.C. Penney at Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids, after going to the mall to get a coat for her mother. She never returned. She had reportedly been stabbed 29 times.
Iowa law states that DNA can only be used to identify a person during a criminal investigation. Following Friday's appeal hearing, it was reported by the Gazette that Burns and his lawyer were arguing that without a warrant, the DNA from the straw could have been potentially used by police for purposes other than the criminal investigation.
After a justice inquired about what he was referring to, attorney Dennis Curran said DNA is a sensitive material that reveals unique genetic facts about a person and provides a wide variety of information about that person. Curran has been working on the appeal with Kathleen Zellner, who gained notoriety after appearing on the television series "Making a Murderer".
A ruling on Burns' appeal will be made by the Iowa Supreme Court at a later date.