Sarah McLinn sentenced to ‘Hard 50’ for brutal 2014 murder of Harold Sasko

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.

Sarah Gonzales McLinn will be nearly 70 years old when she gets her first chance to be released from prison, a judge ruled Friday.

A jury in March decided that McLinn, 21, murdered 52-year-old Harold “Hal” Sasko, of Lawrence, in an “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner.” They convicted her of first-degree murder with “aggravating factors,” making her eligible for a “Hard 50” sentence, which she received.

Sasko was found nearly decapitated and sprawled on the living room floor of his Lawrence home on Jan. 17, 2014. His wrists and ankles were zip-tied, and his blood was smeared on a wall. In the smear, McLinn had scrawled the word “FREEDOM,” according to court evidence.

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.

McLinn had been living with Sasko for more than a year before the killing and had previously worked for him at one of Sasko’s CiCi’s Pizza restaurants.

After being caught, McLinn confessed to plunging a knife into Sasko’s neck “to see what it felt like to kill someone.” McLinn had fled the crime scene, driving to Texas “to see the ocean,” then to Florida, collecting tattoos along the way. A park ranger in Everglades National Park found her illegally camping there in Sasko’s car the week after Sasko’s slaying. Lawrence detectives flew down to interview and arrest her.

But on Friday – and throughout the jury trial in March – McLinn’s attorney, Carl Cornwell, insisted that McLinn herself did not kill Sasko, but rather it was one of her compartmentalized personalities, “Alyssa,” who was driving McLinn’s actions during the slaying. Cornwell used the “not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect” defense because a psychologist hired by the defense had diagnosed her with Dissociative Identity Disorder, or multiple personalities.

Ultimately, the jury did not believe the defense and found McLinn guilty.

“I will always respect what a jury decides, and I can tell with that jury how thoughtful they were, how considerate, and that they give it their all,” Cornwell said Friday. “But I don’t agree with them.”

Cornwell argued Friday that Douglas County District Judge Paula Martin should send McLinn to a state hospital instead of to prison, and if prison was decided, to grant McLinn a 25-year sentence instead of the Hard 50, because of her mental illness.

Cornwell said that McLinn suffered sexual abuse as a child and a brutal rape at 15 that contributed to her mental illness. He said that when she met Sasko at age 17 she thought she finally “met someone who (was) going to help her.” Testimony at trial indicated that there may have been a sexual component to their relationship, and that Sasko had paid for two plastic surgeries – a nose job and buttocks implants – while she lived with him.

Cornwell said the implants were “embarrassing” for McLinn and caused her to slip into a depression before she killed Sasko. On Friday, he told the court that he knew McLinn was mentally ill especially when he went to visit her immediately following her conviction and she told him: “It would really help us out if we can get the implants out.”

“When I take my last breath on God’s earth I will believe (McLinn is mentally ill),” Cornwell said. “I know that people are skeptical of these defenses. This is, Judge, a nice little girl.”

But prosecutor David Melton criticized the defense’s characterization of McLinn as a victim. He added that psychological evaluations at Larned State Hospital, a neutral party, found that McLinn did not meet the criteria for Dissociative Identity Disorder. Martin said that she was found to have borderline personality disorder with antisocial tendencies, however. The report also said McLinn seemed to be “exaggerating symptoms” of mental disease.

“This was not carried out by a ‘nice little girl,'” Melton said. “This was carried out by somebody who was methodical and had foresight. She told coworkers she was going to be gone for a death in family (before she killed Sasko.) She knew to leave her cellphone behind” before fleeing to avoid being tracked.

Melton said that “rarely in a legal career does something come along as heinous and cruel” as Sasko’s murder, so McLinn deserved the 50-to-life sentence.

“Some murders are so evil, so terrible that they are deserving of a greater punishment,” Melton said.

Melton said that McLinn could have chosen another murder method, like smothering, overdosing or poisoning Sasko. He said the fact that McLinn chose to plunge the long knife into Sasko’s carotid artery said a lot about the horror of the crime.

“This ‘nice little girl’ decided to use a knife; she made that decision,” Melton said. “She chose the knife because she wanted to experience this murder as much as she could. Your Honor, the defendant enjoyed this.

“Harold Sasko, a human being, was brutally killed to give this defendant pleasure and satisfy her curiosity,” Melton said.

Before sentencing, Sasko’s brother, Tom Sasko, and McLinn herself addressed the court. Tom Sasko said that there are no winners in this case, but that McLinn should receive the 50-year sentence.

“I feel so sorry for the family. Amanda (Sasko) will hurt the worst; she lost her dad. Through the years it’s going to be worse and worse, and then it’s going to fade away,” Tom Sasko said. “But I honestly feel she will do society no good after 25 years when she is released. I want 50 years.”

McLinn took the opportunity to express remorse for the killing. She said the following between heaving sobs, looking back and forth between her family and Sasko’s family:

“I think a lot about how things could’ve been so different for everybody. What I’m trying to say is that I realize there are a lot of people in a lot of pain right now and I never intended to hurt anybody. But I can see there are a lot of people in pain here because of me.

“I’d like the chance to say I’m sorry to my family, and Hal’s too. I know you have every right to hate me for the rest of your lives, and I know I’m asking a lot, but I hope that one day you find it in your hearts to forgive me.”

After considering the arguments, psychological reports, pleas from family and letters to the court, Martin ultimately decided that there was “no evidence to support commitment to a psychological facility over jail” and that the murder was committed in a “heinous, atrocious and cruel” manner. She then sentenced McLinn to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years.

McLinn has 580 days – or about one year and seven months – of time-served credit, Martin said, making her eligible for parole in 2063.