Were the e-mails exchanged between murder victim Kent Leppink and accused killers Mechele Linehan and John Carlin evidence of a conspiracy? Or were they merely correspondence between friends and proof more of a dramatic household where multiple older men were vying for the affections of the same 23-year-old former exotic dancer?
Alaska State Troopers cold-case investigators continued their testimony Wednesday in the murder trial of Linehan. They told jurors why they thought she manipulated Carlin, at the time a 39-year-old ex-steelworker, into murdering Leppink, a 36-year-old commercial fisherman, in 1996 in hope of getting a life insurance payout.
Defense attorneys countered by entering their own e-mails and suggesting to jurors a different interpretation.
The 60 or so e-mails were extracted from two computers at the Carlin household. For the prosecution, they are a key component of the circumstantial evidence that make up the states case. Most were not discovered until troopers re-opened the investigation in 2003 and through new technology were able to access the mail. Some were found by forensic evidence investigators as late as last week, according to testimony at the trial.
Many of the e-mails jurors saw over the last two days were also presented during Carlins March trial, in which he was convicted of first-degree murder.
The defense says investigators have cherry-picked lines and drawn incorrect assumptions.
The way they edit those e-mails, they could make Santa Claus look like a killer, Linehans husband, Colin, said to a friend during a break in testimony Tuesday.
In the packet of e-mails given to jurors is one confessional-style note from the victim to Carlin six weeks before the murder. Leppink wrote: True love does strange things to men, and Im glad that God was good enough to me to give me the strength to get through the hard times we have gone through.
The e-mails track those who lived in Carlins household - Carlin, Leppink and Linehan - in the months before the murder.
As they approach the day Leppink was found dead, May 2, 1996, they show a ratcheting up of emotions, and a busy household where much was going on: Vacations were being planned; Carlins teenage son was skipping school and having emotional problems; Linehan was always traveling; multiple animals, including exotic birds, needed care.
As prosecutor Pat Gullufsen was showing e-mails to jurors, Linehan was hurriedly passing notes to her lawyers.
In some of the last correspondence between Linehan and Leppink, Linehan was mad at him. In one e-mail she wrote: I knew you were smoking pot, taking those pills, and drinking. If you were trying to piss me off it worked but you hurt me more because you damaged the agreement we had about drugs and hurt our trust.
In one of the trooper interviews after the murder, Linehan told investigators that the last time she spoke to Leppink he sounded stupid. She said in the phone conversation, he was evasive, not explaining himself and not answering her questions.
In the months before Leppink was shot to death, the e-mails show that Linehan and Leppink were planning a wedding. Leppink, it seems, believed the wedding was going to happen and was becoming increasingly frustrated. Linehan, however, may have either been trying to get out of the wedding, as suggested by defense attorneys, or simply had never planned on marrying him. In an interview with troopers shortly after the homicide, Linehan told troopers that she had no plans to marry anyone, according to testimony by investigator James Stogsdill.
The e-mails also show that Carlin was clearly in love with Linehan. But before she left for California to see her boyfriend Scott Hilke at the time Leppink was killed, Carlin wrote that he was leaving Alaska and throwing in the towel. He was giving up on her because she had chosen Hilke over him: I am and have been here for you, waiting and hoping. I think you would feel the same way if I was going to an old or present girlfriend every opportunity that I had ... I felt like a second string player hanging around to see if the first string player fails.
I do not want you to go this Thursday and see Scott. I want you to stay home with me and your family," he wrote.
Prosecutors say part of the conspiracy was for Linehan to be in California so she would have an alibi for the murder.
The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case today.
Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland or call 257-4343.