More coverage: Harold Sasko homicide
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson says the state will seek a “Hard 50” sentence if Sarah B. Gonzales McLinn, the 19-year-old woman accused of killing 52-year-old Lawrence resident Harold Sasko, is convicted of first-degree murder in a crime Branson described as "cruel, heinous and atrocious."
That means McLinn, who Monday made her first appearance in Douglas County District Court, could serve 50 years in prison without parole if a jury decides she’s guilty.
“The facts of this case … determine that a ‘Hard 50’ sentence would be appropriate,” Branson said at a press conference following the court proceeding.
But Carl Cornwell, McLinn’s attorney, said he hoped to work out a plea deal with prosecutors rather than have the case go to trial. The “Hard 50” sentence prosecutors are seeking could make that challenging, he explained.
“It’s like a death penalty,” Cornwell said. “So you have to kind of do everything you can to keep that from happening.”
Branson said the prosecution would be “open to a dialogue with the defense.”
After McLinn’s appearance Monday, Cornwell called the case “strange,” adding: “I’m as perplexed as I have been in a long time.” He suggested the case would produce some “aha” moments.
McLinn’s mother, father, sister and friends attended her court appearance. Cornwell said McLinn was “embarrassed” to see them.
“I’m not going to say she’s admitted to doing anything,” Cornwell said. “I’m just suggesting the case isn’t a matter of who has done it, but why.”
Cornwell met with McLinn over the weekend. He said McLinn seemed “orientated,” noting she is not undergoing psychiatric counseling.
“I don’t think she has substance-abuse problems,” Cornwell said. “Does she have emotional problems? Yes. Mental problems? Yes, no question.
“She’s a bright lady. She’s not vicious. I’m just trying to understand what’s going on.”
In court, Cornwell asked District Judge Paula Martin to set McLinn’s next appearance sometime after a duration of 45 days, saying he needed time to go over evidence and meet with a forensic psychologist.
Branson said “a significant amount of discovery” would need to take place before a potential trial, and it could take months to resolve.
McLinn’s next appearance is tentatively set for 2 p.m. March 27.
Sasko, the owner of three CiCi’s Pizza restaurants between Topeka and Lawrence, was found dead Jan. 17 in the home he and McLinn shared in the 2900 block of West 26th Street. McLinn, a former Sasko employee, is accused of gaining control over him and killing him with an “edged instrument” on or around Jan. 14.
In addition to premeditated first-degree murder, McLinn also is charged with felony theft of Sasko’s vehicle. She was found in Everglades National Park with Sasko’s 2008 Nissan Altima on Jan. 25, according to Lawrence police. Branson confirmed Monday that weapons were found in the vehicle, but he would neither confirm nor deny a specific report from Florida law enforcement sources that rangers who found McLinn located knives, guns and an ax in the vehicle.
McLinn returned to Kansas late last week after being released from federal custody on a drug charge related to her Florida arrest. She was booked Saturday into the Douglas County Jail and is being held on a $1 million bond.