Defense attorney: case likely about finding motive behind Lawrence homicide

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DOUGLAS COUNTY, Kan. -- Sarah Gonzalez McLinn, 19, appeared in Douglas County Court Monday afternoon on murder charges because police believe she is responsible for the death of her roommate, Harold "Hal" Sasko, 52.

Cameras were not allowed in the court room, but FOX 4's Shannon O'Brian sat in on the hearing and said although McLinn wore a smirk on her face while the charges against her were read, she never once looked up at her very sad looking family on her way in or out of the court room on Monday.

"They are just in shock," said Carl Cornwell, McLinn's defense attorney.

Cornwell explained McLinn's seemingly inappropriate demeanor upon entering the court room and again while she was being questioned about understanding her charges.

"She was embarrassed. She didn't want to see her family there. She was embarrassed," said Cornwell.

Cornwell said McLinn is competent, but may have some mental issues. She was evaluated by a forensic psychologist over the weekend. He said this case will more than likely be less about the 'who,' and more about the 'why.'

"I think down the road we are going to find that maybe this isn't a whodunit. This is a why, and what was going on in between her ears," he said. "Trying to figure out what motivation was there."

(on left) Harold 'Hal' Sasko, 52, (on right) Sarah Gonzales McLinn, 19
(on left) Harold 'Hal' Sasko, 52, (on right) Sarah Gonzales McLinn, 19

Following McLinn's court appearance on Monday, District Attorney Charles Branson held a brief press conference to explain the charges in the homicide of Sasko. Branson said the method used to kill Sasko has been determined as "heinous, atrocious, and cruel" in nature, but a possible motive would need to be determined in a court of law. At this point in the investigation, the prosecution believes McLinn acted alone. No evidence has been found indicating anyone else was involved.

Branson said the prosecution has filed a request to seek a 'hard 50 penalty' in this case, which is a life sentence with a chance of parole after 50 years. If McLinn is found guilty of premeditated first-degree murder and the felony theft of Sasko's vehicle, she would likely receive the penalty due to the aggravated findings of this case. According to Branson, the state of Kansas it would normally be life in prison with a chance for parole after just 25 years.

Thursday morning, January 30, McLinn appeared in Florida state court and waived extradition to Kansas.

McLinn is suspected in the homicide of Harold "Hal" Sasko, who was found deceased in a Lawrence, Kan. home he shared with McLinn on January 17th. Officers responded to the home to check the welfare of McLinn, who hadn't been seen or heard from by her family since January 14th. Officers were unable to locate McLinn or Sasko's 2008 Nissan Altima.

McLinn was found in Sasko's car on January 25th illegally camping in the Florida Everglades and taken into federal custody on an unrelated drug charge. The Lawrence Police Department then issued a warrant for McLinn on the suspicion on premeditated first-degree murder the following day.

A report by the Miami Herald indicates that park rangers may have found the murder weapon Sasko's car when McLinn was found. Rangers found a small amount of hashish, two firearms, two knives and an ax in the car. An officer close to the investigation said one of the knives is believed to be the weapon used to kill Sasko.

McLinn's next scheduled court appearance is March 27 at 2 p.m. She is currently being held on a $1 million bond.

Footage of press conference held on Monday:

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