Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) & DNA Phenotyping

Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) & DNA Phenotyping

December 20, 2018

by Doug “Uncola” Lynn:

Being a student of human nature, I find the psychology behind human interactions fascinating.  These would include actions and counteractions, motive, opportunity, risk management, strategic speculation, and the revelation of secrets.

Of course, since all of these apply to crimes of passion, if I’m scanning through TV stations and stumble across…. say…. a “Dateline NBC” episode where Lester Holt might be summarizing a murder investigation after the commercial break – if I watch for more than thirty seconds, I’m toast.  For me, it’s the crack cocaine of electronic distraction.  (And, yes, I realize it’s likely by design; otherwise, Dateline would go back to real-time news reporting).

Still, cold cases fascinate me, and when fresh developments occur, I always seem to learn something new.  For example, it’s now common knowledge that our cell phone texting becomes like public Twitter feeds whenever we’re accused of something sinister.  If you don’t believe that, just ask the FBI lovers Peter Strozk and Lisa Page.

So, this morning I stumbled across a line item that took me to the Des Moines Register regarding the 1979 murder of then eighteen-year old Michelle Martinko (pictured above). It turns out that authorities finally found her killer last night, which, coincidently, occurred exactly thirty-nine years ago to the day.

An amazing coincidence, indeed.

Not being familiar with the case, I researched it this morning and discovered the following (condensed) timeline of events:


December 19, 1979 – At approximately 6:30 p.m.: Michelle Martinko drove her family’s 1972 Buick Electra to a shopping mall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She had left a school banquet, and intended to purchase a new winter coat.

December 20, 1979 – at around 4:00 a.m.: Police found her body in the Buick in the parking lot of the mall.

October 2, 2006 – Investigators announced that they had discovered new DNA evidence in the case. They uploaded the new evidence into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). This database matches samples from unsolved crimes to samples from convicted offenders. No match was made through CODIS.

May 16, 2017 – Investigators used services from Parabon NanoLabs to do DNA phenotyping, a process that gives an estimate of physical appearance and ancestry using DNA samples. They used this process to create facial composites, which were released by the police department at a press conference.

December 19, 2018 – Based on DNA evidence that investigators collected covertly, they questioned 64-year-old Jerry Lynn Burns at his workplace in Manchester [Iowa], where he denied committing the alleged killing. He was unable to offer an alternative explanation for why his DNA would have been found at the crime scene.


Evidently, the crime laboratory found that “covertly collected DNA from Burns was a match to the blood found on the gear shift in Martinko’s car the night she was killed”.

In reading back through some of the old cold case files, including one from 2013, I learned:

Whoever stabbed Michelle to death had a personal relationship with her. Michelle had been repeatedly stabbed most notably in her beautiful face. This is a clear sign of a personable murder.

Michelle’s crime scene seems to say that she had to be erased from life, never to be remembered again. Michelle was not sexually assaulted and all her money was still in the car. This eliminates a number of motives for this crime and indicates… that whoever killed Michelle was not a stranger.

So, stabbing someone in the face implies a “personable murder” and is indicative of the desire to “erase” them.


But even more fascinating is the technology which, seemingly (according to this case), became available circa 2017, regarding DNA phenotyping whereby:

 …researchers found 15 loci in which genes are found that are responsible for our facial features.

This means, our DNA can be collected covertly, then profiled, and matched within a national database; complete with a photo of whatever age we were at the time.

Here is what that looked like in this case:


In the days prior to DNA Phenotyping, hypnotists extracted sketches from witnesses:



In 2017, using new DNA Phenotyping technology, average-out-of-samples were predicted:



Then variances assembled:



Then entered into the database:



Prior to the suspect being discovered and arrested:


Jerry Lynn Burns, age 64


Busted.  Exactly 39 years to the day.  Who knew?

The aforementioned 2013 cold-case article also included a sad update on Michelle Martinko’s mother and father; related, in part, by Michelle’s then-married sister, Janelle Stonebraker:

 …. Janet and Albert Martinko, never recovered from her [Michelle’s] death. Before the murder, Janet Martinko had been a lively, outgoing woman. Afterward, she didn’t want to be seen in public. She was reluctant even to go to the grocery store. Both Martinkos plunged themselves into painful seclusion and suffered from health problems until their deaths — Al in 1995, Janet in 1998.

They went to their graves believing an ex-boyfriend of Michelle’s had killed her, Janelle Stonebraker said. It turned out they were wrong.

As of this writing, however, on December 20, 2018, John Stonebraker, the husband of Michelle’s sister, Janelle, said in a statement:

Janelle and I are very pleased and grateful for the work of several generations of Cedar Rapids [Iowa] uniformed police and detectives in bringing Mr. Burns to justice. From the leadership on down, they never gave up.

The community can be very proud of its law enforcement, and for the tremendous comfort and support area residents have extended to our family over the thirty-nine years since Michelle’s death. Our heartfelt thanks to everyone.

The family will have no further comment until a later date. Mr. Burns is presumed innocent, and we look forward to the evidence showing otherwise.

The moral of the story?  Technology is like fire:  It can either warm you, or scorch you.  Think about it.

3 thoughts on “Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) & DNA Phenotyping

  1. In a coincidence that suggests “intersectionality” of the internet world (hmmm? where did I see that?) I rented a movie called Dark Web out of the sci/fi section. It was a horrible movie that ended poorly, but I’m convinced technology is rather easily manipulated in its early stages.]


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