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Man faces murder charges based on 39-year-old DNA evidence

As DNA analysis technology progresses and as more people's DNA becomes available to investigators, more and more people will likely find themselves arrested and charged with crimes that happened years and even decades ago. Eastern Iowa residents have been reminded of this fact as prosecutors have filed criminal charges in a homicide case from nearly 40 years ago.

On December 19, officials in Cedar Rapids announced they had made an arrest in the killing of Michelle Martinko, whose body was found in her family's car at the Westdale Mall early in the morning of December 20, 1979. Police said that Martinko had been stabbed a minimum of eight times and had attempted to fight off her killer.

Prosecutors said that many years after the killing, a crime lab analyzed the clothing Martinko was wearing at the time of her death. The lab reportedly found blood that did not belong to her, and the lab was apparently able to develop a partial DNA profile from this blood. A 64-year-old man was arrested in Manchester and is facing murder charges on the basis of this DNA evidence, according to authorities.

DNA evidence is often portrayed in the media as being incontrovertible evidence of guilt. Yet there are many problems that can arise in a prosecution based mainly on DNA evidence. The integrity of evidence can be compromised if authorities do not follow strict procedures for testing evidence and maintaining a chain of custody. There also may be problems arising if the evidence is years or even decades old. People facing charges on old crimes have the right to due process of law and the right to demand that the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the crime alleged.

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