Kansas Supreme Court upholds murder conviction and sentence for Sarah McLinn

photo by: Richard Gwin

Sarah Gonzales McLinn gives a statement Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, in Douglas County District Court before her sentencing for the first-degree murder of Harold “Hal” Sasko in January 2014.

? The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday upheld the first-degree murder conviction and Hard 50 sentence for Sarah Gonzales McLinn for the brutal 2014 slaying of Lawrence resident Harold Sasko.

In a 59-page opinion, a majority of the court rejected almost all of McLinn’s arguments on appeal, including the argument that instructions given to jurors at the trial made it too difficult for them to find her not guilty by reason of mental illness.

McLinn, a Topeka native who was 19 at the time of the murder, had been living in Lawrence with Sasko, who was 52. Sasko owned Cicis Pizza franchises in both Lawrence and Topeka and had given her a job before letting her move in with him.

Sasko’s body was found in his home Jan. 14, 2014, with his hands and feet bound with zip ties and multiple stab wounds to his neck. The word “freedom” was found written on a wall in Sasko’s blood.

Police searched for McLinn for several days and eventually found her in Florida with Sasko’s car.

At trial, McLinn’s attorneys presented an expert witness who testified that she suffered from “dissociative identity disorder,” or DID, also known as multiple personality disorder, the result of childhood sexual abuse, a brutal rape at the age of 15 and other factors.

Dr. Marilyn Hutchinson testified that because of her mental condition, McLinn was not capable of forming the criminal intent necessary to find her guilty because “forming an intent is a rational thought,” which she said McLinn was incapable of at the time.

But Dr. William Logan, an expert witness for the state, testified that while McLinn clearly suffered emotional effects from trauma, and that she may or may not have had DID, her condition did not necessarily prevent her from forming criminal intent.

The jury found her guilty, and the court sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole for at least 50 years, plus post-release supervision after that.

On appeal, McLinn’s attorneys took exception to the wording in one of the instructions to the jury, which said McLinn could not be found guilty if, because of her mental illness, she “lacked the intent to kill” Sasko.

The defense argued that the instruction should have included the phrase “or the ability to premeditate the killing,” according the the court’s decision.

The court, however, rejected that argument and said the instructions given to the jury were legally appropriate.

The opinion was signed by six of the seven Supreme Court justices. Justice Carol Beier, however, dissented, saying that she thought the conviction should have been overturned because premeditation is a mental state that the prosecutor should have been required to prove as an element of guilt.