McLinn trial: Years of sexual abuse caused multiple personality disorder, defense says

Sarah Gonzales McLinn, 20, of Lawrence, suffered years of sexual abuse, ultimately leading to dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personalities, her attorney Carl Cornwell told jurors Tuesday morning.

McLinn is charged with intentional, premeditated murder in the Jan. 14, 2014, death of Harold “Hal” Sasko, 52, of Lawrence. McLinn lived with Sasko during the time of his death and had previously worked for him at Sasko’s CiCi’s Pizza restaurant. Cornwell is pursuing the “not guilty by mental disease or defect” defense.

Sarah Gonzales McLinn

Carl Cornwell

During opening statements Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney David Melton told jurors that McLinn crushed Sasko’s Ambien sleeping pills into his beer, bound his wrists and ankles with zip-ties after he collapsed to the floor, felt for Sasko’s artery and plunged a “large, black survival knife” into his neck until the tip hit the carpet beneath Sasko’s body.

Melton said she pulled the knife toward her “in a sawing motion,” soaked a towel in his “rapidly pooling blood” and smeared it all over the white walls of Sasko’s living room. McLinn then wrote the word “Freedom” in the blood, declaring her independence from a life she told her sister she didn’t want to lead, Melton said.

“She didn’t want a house, car, debt or a lousy job; she wanted real freedom,” Melton said. “Real freedom meant living life free of restrictions placed upon her by society’s rules. The evidence will show that to the defendant, freedom meant murdering another human being just to see it.”

Melton also said that evidence to be presented this week will show that McLinn had been planning Sasko’s murder for at least a month. Investigators discovered Internet searches on her computer dating back to December that included search terms like “How to get a passport in Lawrence,” “rape bondage techniques” and “vulnerable neck spots.”

Multiple personalities

Cornwell said during his opening statements that it was not McLinn who wanted to kill Sasko, but it was her alter-ego, “Alyssa,” who did. Cornwell said that McLinn has multiple personalities, including the kinder “Vanessa,” and another one without a name “who takes all of the horror and takes it in.” Cornwell said McLinn’s psychologist will testify to her multiple personalities later this week.

McLinn began developing the personalities after experiencing abuse stemming back to her childhood, Cornwell said the evidence will show. From the time she was 3 to 5 years old, Cornwell said a neighbor raped McLinn with a “gardening instrument.”

Cornwell said that as a teenager, McLinn was held down by another man and was raped again. Cornwell then held up McLinn’s arm for jurors to show scars that remain from the alleged rapist burning her with a cigarette. Cornwell said that “Sarah” died after the incident and “Vanessa,” “Alyssa” and the anonymous personality took over.

Cornwell said that jurors should find McLinn not guilty because she was not in control of herself when she killed Sasko. Cornwell said that is evidenced by the word “freedom” written in blood on the wall.

“It was freed to get away from being abused as a child, being raped as a teenager and being used and abused and manipulated as a young adult,” Cornwell said.

Gruesome photos

Douglas County Coroner Dr. Erik Mitchell showed jurors Tuesday afternoon gruesome photos from Sasko’s autopsy. Sasko’s face and neck were visible in the photos, his head nearly severed from his body at the throat. Mitchell said Sasko’s carotid artery was cut through and “nearly all” of his neck tissue was destroyed, and that the wound extended “down to the edge of the spine.”

Harold Sasko

Before the graphic photos were broadcast on a large screen, Branson gestured to someone in the gallery who had known Sasko, and Cornwell whispered something to McLinn’s mother. Spectators, family and friends viewing the trial from the gallery were stoic as the images were shown. McLinn kept her eyes locked on her hands folded in her lap.

Mitchell also showed jurors the actual long, black knife alleged to have been used to kill Sasko. He said it was consistent with Sasko’s injuries.

Lawrence police Detective David Axman showed photos of Sasko’s body at the crime scene. Sasko was lying on his living room floor with his right cheek to the ground, with his eyes closed and wrists and ankles bound by zip-ties. Axman said that three fingerprints left in Sasko’s blood in the kitchen and stair railing matched McLinn’s.

Axman also showed jurors a 4-foot piece of sheetrock that Sasko’s brother discovered hidden in the laundry room. On its back, someone had scrawled out a stick figure and circled the drawing’s upper and lower abdomen, labeling them “major organ one” and “major organ two.” The stick figure’s upper thighs were circled, as well, with the label “major blood vessel.”

In the sheetrock were cuts and dents, which Axman said were consistent with someone throwing a knife at the stick figure – the blade creating the cuts and the handle leaving the dents.

‘She wouldn’t mind seeing someone die’

Also testifying Tuesday afternoon were Bed, Bath & Beyond employees Charles Gonzales, Trustin Jacobs, Cynthia Winkleman and Kayla Czerniak. The employees said that McLinn had been working for Bed, Bath & Beyond, 3106 Iowa St., for three months before she fled Lawrence the night of Sasko’s death.

Jacobs said that the Friday before Sasko’s slaying, McLinn was excited about a new group of friends who would take methamphetamine and watch each other fight and “beat themselves silly.” Jacobs warned her that it sounded dangerous and someone would die, but he said McLinn was not concerned.

“She said she enjoyed watching and it didn’t bother her that someone could get hurt,” Jacobs said. “She said she wouldn’t mind seeing someone die.”

Winkleman, Gonzales and Czerniak said that McLinn called them the day before and the day of Sasko’s death to tell them that her father had died and she needed to be off from work that week. Gonzales said he believed her because she was crying “enough to tell she was serious.”

“She was sobbing, it was emotional,” Gonzales said. “Something had obviously happened to make her that upset.”

Testimony will resume Wednesday morning with Lawrence police officer Josh Lietner, who examined the contents of McLinn and Sasko’s electronics. The trial is expected to last through next week.

McLinn remains in the Douglas County Jail on a $1 million bond.