A man has been jailed for life thanks to DNA obtained by an ancestry website – nailing a criminal who managed to get away with murder for 40 years.
Jerry Lynn Burns was found guilty of the 1979 murder of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko, who was brutally stabbed to death in a shopping mall car park in the USA.
Police had been baffled by the crime when they discovered Michelle’s lifeless body in her car one frozen December morning.
The teen’s parents had raised the alarm at 2am when Michelle hadn’t returned home after popping out to buy a coat.
But at 4am, police found her dead in her parked car in the mall parking lot, having been stabbed in the face, chest and heart by a brutal killer.
The teenager had been stabbed over 10 times, with the wound to her heart believed to have been fatal, as it led her to bleed to death.
While stab wounds to her hands showed she had bravely tried to fight her attacker, police could find no finger prints of the attacker or a murder weapon at the scene.
However, blood that did not match Michelle was found on her dress and on the gear stick, with police believing it to be the blood of the attacker.
Although an investigation was launched, the case ran cold after a sketch of a suspect and a $10,000 reward (£7,800) led to over 60 suspects being investigated, before all were eliminated.
In 2006, however, police utilised information from ancestry website GEDmatch, which members of the public can freely send DNA to in order to trace their family tree – leading to cops identifying Mr Burns as a suspect.
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The 66-year-old was tailed by police in 2018 who swooped on a discarded straw he had used to drink from at a restaurant – with his saliva matching the DNA from the crime scene from 39 years previous.
He was arrested and put on trial for first-degree murder – to which he pleaded not guilty.
The trial began in February this year, with the prosecution arguing Mr Burns had been at the scene of the murder, while he could offer no explanation as to how his blood had ended up at the scene.
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Last month, he was found guilty of the murder and sentence to life without parole and ordered to pay restitution of $150,000 to Michelle’s estate.
His request for a new trial was denied.
Michelle’s parents both died in the 1990s and did not see their daughter get justice, but her older sister, Janelle expressed her happiness at finally seeing an end to the case.
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The Mirror reports she said: “We don’t exactly know the whys and some of the details, but we definitely know who did it, and that was terribly important to us.”
While Janelle’s husband John spoke about Michelle’s bravery in her final moments. “We’re thankful that she fought so hard. Michelle played a critical role in identifying her own killer.
“The defensive wounds on her hands show it. She fought so hard that she was able to deflect the killer’s knife so that he stabbed himself, leaving the blood that caught him. In a very real way, Michelle became her own best witness.”
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