Jury finds McLinn guilty of first-degree murder

Sarah Gonzales McLinn

Jurors found Sarah Gonzales McLinn guilty of first-degree murder in the January 2014 killing of Harold “Hal” Sasko Friday in Douglas County court.

The jury deliberated for nearly five hours before determining that McLinn, 20, of Lawrence, was able to form intent when she used a long, black knife to slice the neck of Sasko, 52, of Lawrence, on Jan. 14, 2014.

McLinn lived with Sasko at the time of his death and had previously worked for him at Sasko’s CiCi’s Pizza restaurant. In order to find McLinn not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, jurors had to find that she was “incapable of possessing the required culpable mental state” to plan and intend to kill Sasko.

A determination on a “Hard 50” sentence — 50 years in jail without the possibility of parole — will wait until Monday. Jurors must decide if there were “aggravating factors” in the murder that justify the sentence.

On Wednesday, jurors watched McLinn’s videotaped post-arrest interview in which she detailed drugging Sasko with five sleeping pills, zip-tying his wrists and ankles, feeling for his artery and plunging the knife into his neck.

On Friday, jurors heard testimony from psychiatrist William Logan, who conducted a forensic evaluation of McLinn for the prosecution. The defense hired psychologist Marilyn Hutchinson, who testified Thursday.

Hutchinson, who examined McLinn for total of 17 ½ hours between February 2014 and July 2014, said Thursday that she diagnosed McLinn with dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personalities. Hutchinson said she refers to McLinn as “the system of Sarah.” Within that “system” are “Vanessa,” “Alyssa,” “Mila” and “No-name,” Hutchinson said.

Logan said Friday that McLinn likely has DID, but that “the issue is not whether she had it, the purpose of this proceeding is to determine whether she had the intent” to kill Sasko. Hutchinson previously testified Thursday that she “has never doubted” that McLinn’s “Alyssa” sub-identity intended to kill Sasko.

“There’s not two people sitting at that defendant’s table,” Logan said. “There’s only one person sitting at the defendant’s table.”

During his testimony, Logan said that after reviewing McLinn’s medical records, Hutchinson’s reports and speaking with McLinn, he agreed the woman had mental health issues, but that they were irrelevant to the legal definition of her guilt.

“My opinion with a reasonable medical certainty that she could form intent,” Logan said. “This was not a snap decision.”

Logan said that McLinn now believes that she has multiple personalities after hours of speaking with Hutchinson, and that it might make it easier for her not to assume guilt for her actions.

“She has taken another human life, a benefactor, and it allows her to think of herself as Vanessa, the victim, not the aggressor who has to take responsibility for what she did,” Logan said.

During closing statements Friday, McLinn’s attorney, Carl Cornwell, focused his arguments largely on McLinn’s reported history of abuse. Earlier this week, jurors learned that McLinn said she’d been molested as a toddler and brutally raped at 16.

“We all know that she is broken,” Cornwell said of McLinn. “We all know that she needs to be safeguarded and we all know that she needs to be treated.”

Cornwell told jurors that because his defendant has mental problems, she should be found not guilty so she could be sent to Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility.

“You have a young lady that suffered abuse. If you are saying that she is not guilty by mental disease or defect, she goes down to Larned State Facility Hospital,” Cornwell said. “She doesn’t get to leave with me, she doesn’t get to embrace her family.”

However, District Judge Paula Martin instructed jurors not to consider what will happen to McLinn after they make their decision.

Cornwell picked up the knife McLinn used to kill Sasko, waving it around for jurors at times throughout his arguments, and used a cardboard printout of the definition of DID. Branson told jurors to ignore Cornwell’s “smoke and mirrors.”

“It is the law of the state that you should not take into consideration anything else,” Branson said. “(Cornwell) spent a lot of time talking about other things. Don’t get confused. The evidence suggests overwhelmingly that these were intentional acts.”

Sasko’s brother, Tom Sasko, said that “it is what it is.” Tom Sasko said that regardless of how the verdict comes out, “it’s not going to bring Hal back.”

Check back to LJWorld.com for more updates.

More coverage:

Years of sexual abuse caused multiple personality disorder, defense says

McLinn describes killing Sasko in police interview

Psychologist: McLinn has multiple personalities, compares herself to Jeffrey Dahmer