Retired journalist Dave Ranney talks about Sarah Gonzales-McLinn’s request for clemency during a June 6, 2023, meeting of the League of Women Voters of Topeka-Shawnee County. Gonzales-McLinn killed Hal Sasko in January 2014 after months of sexual abuse. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Dave Ranney says few people disagree with his assertion that Gov. Laura Kelly should grant clemency to Sarah Gonzales-McLinn, who slit her rapist’s throat in 2014.
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But when he hears opposition, Ranney said during a speech Tuesday before the League of Women Voters of Topeka-Shawnee County, he asks this question: “Why don’t you tell me what you think was going on in that house?”
“I cannot get anybody to go there with me,” Ranney said.
Gonzales-McLinn, 28, is serving a minimum 25-year prison sentence for killing Hal Sasko. Ranney and other advocates have tried to bring attention to the months of abuse she suffered in sexual slavery to Sasko before the murder.
The advocates supported her request for clemency in a December filing with the Prisoner Review Board, which forwarded a secret recommendation to the governor’s office in May. The governor has no deadline for granting or declining clemency.
Ranney, a retired journalist who worked with Gonzales-McLinn in a writing program at the women’s prison in Topeka, and Becca Spielman, program director for the Center for Safety and Empowerment at YWCA Northeast Kansas, talked about human trafficking during Tuesday’s meeting.
Sex trafficking involves an individual who is induced into sexual acts in exchange for something of value, Spielman said. Those who are younger than 18 cannot legally consent to an exchange of goods for sex. But if the person is an adult, it has to involve force, fraud or coercion to meet the federal definition.
That could mean someone feels like they don’t have any other options, or they are threatened in some way, or need a place to stay.
“The reality of it is it can happen in someone’s home, it can happen in someone’s workplace, it can happen at a party,” Spielman said.
The shelter provides services for 75 to 100 survivors of human trafficking every year, Spielman said.
“Typically, these are folks who have been vulnerable, have some level of vulnerability, because they need a place to stay, they run away from home, those kinds of things, lots of history of violence in their past,” Spielman said. “And then traffickers prey on that vulnerability.”
The crowd gasped when Ranney said the judge in Gonzales-McLinn’s 2015 trial wouldn’t let her attorney talk about the way Sasko, who was 52 at the time of his death, preyed upon a vulnerable teenager, kept her in financial servitude, coerced her into getting unwanted butt implants, and raped her several times per week. The judge reasoned that Gonzales-McLinn’s actions were on trial, not Sasko’s character, Ranney said.
“It was OK for prosecutors to show that Sarah was a drug-crazed, thrill-seeking teenager,” Ranney said. “It was not OK for Sarah’s attorney to allege that Sasko was a sex predator.”
Ranney said the governor has the legal ability to “do whatever she wants” with Gonzales-McLinn’s clemency request. She could set parole criteria, require five more years of prison time, or let Gonzales-McLinn out tomorrow, Ranney said.
“I’m optimistic, but I’m in this awkward position,” he added. “Sarah has been disappointed, betrayed — I don’t know the right word. Sarah has been screwed by a lot of men. And I will not be optimistic with her.”
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