- Associated Press - Monday, February 3, 2014

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - An attorney for a 19-year-old woman charged with murder for the slaying of a Lawrence businessman who was her roommate said Monday that the case would center on her motive, not on whether or not she committed the crime.

Carl Cornwell’s client, Sarah Brooke Gonzales McLinn, appeared briefly in Douglas County District Court to hear the amended charges against her in the Jan. 14 death of 52-year-old Harold Sasko.

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson also filed notice that he would seek to have McLinn sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for at least 50 years, known as the “Hard 50.” McLinn is scheduled to be back in court on March 27. She’s being held on $1 million bond.

Cornwell said after the hearing that there was more to the story that would come out as the court case progressed. He didn’t elaborate on what the motive might be.

But he did suggest that he hoped to avoid a protracted court trial.

“I’m hoping I can work it out with the prosecutor,” Cornwell said, adding that the “Hard 50” was “like a death penalty. She’s going to die in prison with that kind of a deal.”

Branson said the evidence of the crime was particularly vicious, heinous and cruel that would qualify for the “Hard 50” sentence, but declined to elaborate. Authorities have said that they believe Sasko was killed with an “edged instrument” and may have been subdued before the incident.

“We are open to a dialogue with the defense,” Branson said. “Any good prosecutor is going to explore all options before going to court with a crime.”

Sasko owned pizza restaurants in Lawrence and Topeka. McLinn was an employee, and Sasko’s relatives have said he let her move into his home while she was having personal problems.

McLinn was arrested in Florida at the Everglades National Park, but waived extradition and returned to Kansas over the weekend. Branson has also charged her with theft of Sasko’s vehicle.

Branson confirmed that several items were found in the vehicle, including knives, an ax and a gun, but did not say whether any were used in Sasko’s death.

Cornwell said he met with McLinn over the weekend along with a mental health expert to assess her condition. More evaluation is expected, he said, which could delay court proceedings.

Her attorney said McLinn didn’t have a substance abuse problem. He also said the relationship between the pair was not abusive.

“It’s kind of odd that a 19-year-old is living with a 52-year-old,” he said. “Does she have emotional problems? Yes. Mental problems? Yes, no question.”

McLinn’s family was in the courtroom and left the grounds without speaking to reporters at Cornwell’s guidance.

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