Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez today announced that District Judge Amy Hanley approved a settlement of a habeas corpus case filed by Sarah Gonzales-McLinn. As a result, Judge Hanley resentenced Gonzales-McLinn to a hard 25 years in state prison.
Gonzales-McLinn was convicted in 2015 of first-degree murder in the 2014 killing of local business owner Harold “Hal” Sasko and received a “hard 50” sentence.
Before trial, then-District Attorney Charles Branson offered Gonzales-McLinn’s attorney Carl Cornwell a plea deal in which the State would agree not to seek a “hard 50” sentence if Gonzales-McLinn pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and did not seek a departure sentence. Gonzales-McLinn ultimately rejected this offer and the case proceeded to a jury trial.
In 2019, Gonzales-McLinn filed a petition under K.S.A. 60-1507, Kansas’ habeas corpus statute. The State opposed the petition. In her petition, Gonzales-McLinn argued through post-conviction counsel Jonathan Sternberg that she was entitled to a new trial for five reasons. Judge Hanley summarily denied three of those reasons but heard evidence and argument on Gonzales-McLinn’s two remaining claims in December 2019 and February 2020.
The first claim was that Gonzales-McLinn’s trial counsel was ineffective because he did not fully advise her regarding the State’s hard 25 plea offer. The second claim was that her trial counsel was ineffective for pursuing a defense of mental disease or defect because of Dissociative Identity Disorder rather than arguing battered women’s syndrome as a defense. The State opposed both of these claims.
While these claims were pending, Valdez and Sternberg negotiated the settlement. Under the settlement, the State conceded that Gonzales-McLinn’s trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately advise her about the hard 25 plea offer. In exchange, Gonzales-McLinn dropped her remaining habeas claim. The parties stipulated that the appropriate relief for this claim was to resentence Gonzales-McLinn as though she had accepted the initial plea offer.
“The District Attorney’s Office is committed to justice for victims and defendants. We are grateful that the Sasko family will not have to endure a retrial and for the closure this settlement brings to all the parties,” Valdez said. “This new sentence represents the offer Ms. Gonzales-McLinn would have accepted had she had effective trial counsel. She now will be eligible for parole at age 45, instead of 70.”