More coverage: Harold Sasko homicide
Sarah B. Gonzales McLinn, 19, appeared at 1:30 p.m. today in Lawrence before District Judge Paula Martin to face a first-degree murder charge in the death of local businessman Harold M. Sasko, 52.
At 2:15 p.m., District Attorney Charles Branson, who charged McLinn in Sasko's death, held a news conference to explain those charges.
McLinn was booked into the Douglas County Jail on Saturday and is being held on a $1 million bond.
Sasko's body was found on Jan. 17 at the home he shared with McLinn in the 2900 block of West 26th Street. McLinn was missing in the wake of Sasko's death and was found more than a week later in Everglades National Park in Florida. She waived extradition and was returned to Kansas this past weekend.
Journal-World reporters Nicole Wentling and Sara Shepherd reported live from Massachusetts Street near the courthouse. Here's how the afternoon's events unfolded:
McLinn's first appearance in Douglas County has begun. She is being represented by attorney Carl Cornwell of Olathe.
Branson said the state of Kansas intends to seek "Hard 50" against McLinn for what he called a crime committed in an especially heinous manner. That means McLinn, if convicted, could serve 50 years in prison without chance for parole.
In addition to first-degree murder, McLinn also has been charged with theft of Sasko's vehicle, a felony.
McLinn is expected back in court in the next 45 days. Cornwell requested that time period to prepare for McLinn's preliminary hearing.
After the proceedings, Cornwell said the case "isn't a matter of who has done it, but why." He said he would work to waive McLinn's preliminary hearing and try to work out a deal with the prosecution.
"I don't think she has substance abuse problems," Cornwell said. "Does she have emotional problems? Yes. Mental problems? Yes, no question."
Cornwell, who has been an attorney for more than 30 years, said he is "perplexed as ever" with McLinn's case. "We're trying to figure out what motive was there," he said.
Next up: Branson is expected to address the media near the courthouse regarding this afternoon's court proceedings with McLinn. The press conference is expected to begin at 2:15 p.m.
Cornwell said McLinn's family is "in a state of shock." He described his client's current mental state as "oriented."
Cornwell described McLinn's case as "strange" and suggested the trial would produce some "aha" moments.
McLinn's mother, father, sister and friends attended her first appearance. Cornwell said McLinn was "embarrassed" to see them.
McLinn's next appearance is tentatively set for 2 p.m. March 27.
The press conference with District Attorney Branson has begun. It's taking place at the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.
Branson thanks Lawrence police for "hard work and dedication on this case."
"Charges are allegations only," Branson reminds the media, noting the defendant is "innocent until proven guilty."
"The facts of this case ... determine that a Hard 50 sentence would be appropriate," Branson said.
Said Branson: "The way the homicide occurred was cruel, heinous and atrocious."
The state will not seek the death penalty against McLinn, Branson said, because circumstances of the case don't warrant it.
Branson confirmed "there were weapons found in the car" but said he could neither confirm nor deny a specific report from Florida law enforcement that rangers who found McLinn located knives, guns and an ax in Sasko's vehicle.
"We are open to a dialogue with the defense," Branson added. "Any good prosecutor is going to explore all options before going to court with a crime."
Regarding national media attention on the case, Branson said: "The facts speak for themselves."
He said that "a significant amount of discovery" would need to take place before a potential trial.
"It's very probable this case will take many months to resolve," he noted.
"At this time we have no reason to believe there was anybody else involved," Branson added.
The press conference concluded at 2:28 p.m.