Inside a Cedar Rapids pub on Wednesday night dozens gathered for a celebration.
Friends and family of Michelle Martinko, who was murdered at a Cedar Rapids mall 40 years ago, shared hugs, laughs and some tears as they marked a moment they never thought would come.
"This whole room, we all know each other,” Gail McCammon Dawson, of Davenport, a graduate of Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, told KCRG-TV 9. “Most everybody here was in choir, that I can see."
A jury in Davenport on Monday convicted 66-year-old Jerry Burns of Manchester of first-degree murder in the death of Martinko, who was a high school student when she was killed outside Westdale Mall in December 1979.
Just about everyone who gathered at on Wednesday was a family member or friend of Martinko, or a member of the prosecution and investigation teams that worked on her case.
McCammon Dawson sat in the courtroom alongside Martinko’s sister and brother-in-law when that long-awaited conviction was finally read. "I bawled my head off,” McCammon Dawson says. “We just had smiles on our face."
Mike Wyrick was Martinko’s high school boyfriend and testified in the case about two weeks prior to the verdict.
"I just said, 'Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,' a bunch of times,” Wyrick told KCRG-TV 9. For decades all Martinko’s loved ones had heard were no leads, no arrests, no answers.
“I'd really given up that it was ever going to happen,” Wyrick says. Wednesday’s gathering was a celebration with the friends and family who had waited 40 years for that moment and with the prosecutors and investigators who won the case.
The friends and family who gathered to remembered her Wednesday night say they know Burns' conviction won't bring her back, but are relieved justice is finally served.
"We'll also always be grateful that she got the justice she deserved in the end,” Wyrick says.
(Photo: KCRG-TV 9)