Jurors in the murder trial of Mechele Linehan returned a guilty verdict Monday afternoon against the former exotic dancer turned PTA mother accused of conspiring to kill a fiance in 1996.
With her husband and lawyer beside her, Linehan stood unflinching as Judge Philip Volland read the decision to convict her of first-degree murder. Her husband, Colin Linehan, normally a stoic figure, slumped when Volland said "guilty." Other family and friends started to cry.
Linehan, 35, faces a minimum sentence of 20 years up to a possible maximum of 99. Volland set sentencing for Jan. 25.
After the verdict was read, Colin Linehan knelt beside his seated wife and buried his head in her shoulder. Guards allowed the couple a final embrace before taking her from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Linehan's co-defendant, John Carlin III, was convicted in April, also of first-degree murder. Prosecutors say the pair conspired to kill Kent Leppink for a $1 million life insurance policy payout, not realizing Leppink had removed Linehan as the beneficiary days before his death.
Carlin and Linehan maintain their innocence.
"God is good, one more time," said Leppink's mother, Betsy, as she walked away from the courtroom. "I guess we are just going to go on, make it a new beginning."
The Leppink family also issued a written statement: "We firmly believe that 'Our God Reigns' and has blessed our family with the services of the finest of Alaskan people." The letter thanks the Alaska State Troopers and prosecutors, among others.
"It was the right decision," said prosecutor Pat Gullufsen. "I think the evidence was there. And it's a long time coming. But I think that we are where we need to be. We have both of them convicted now. It's just a question of what the sentence will be."
Gullufsen said it would be premature to reveal his sentencing recommendation for either convicted defendant. Carlin is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 9.
The prosecution won over two juries using primarily circumstantial evidence in the 11-year-old crime.
Outside the courthouse, Christine Eagleson said she and her fellow jurors were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt by e-mails exchanged between the defendants and the victim.
"If you take one of those e-mails alone, then it doesn't have the same impact it does when you stack them up like you would stack bricks. And, I think when that happened, you ended up building something really large and, I think, undeniable," she said after the verdict.
Eagleson said a note left by Carlin and Linehan for Leppink to find a week before his death, apparently intended to lure him to Hope, was a significant factor in the guilty verdict. Leppink's body was found May 2, 1996, shot three times near Hope, 90 miles from the home he shared with Linehan and Carlin.
Jurors also noted with displeasure that Linehan engaged in "a lot of visual dagger shooting" at certain prosecution witnesses during the trial, notably former stripper colleague Lora Aspiotis, Eagleson said.
Jurors took a first vote on Wednesday, shortly after they got the case, Eagleson said. They were divided six to six -- six undecided and six guilty.
The prosecutor's case "was well presented. And we looked for the balance of that on the other side and it just wasn't there," said juror Sherry Slade.
The three-week trial was full of details of how Linehan, who was 23 at the time, manipulated men for money. The defense did not dispute that but said her bad behavior when she was younger did not make her a killer.
But Linehan's life as an exotic dancer played a role in the jurors' decision. "When ... you were soliciting yourself to be attractive sexually in all those ways -- you were soliciting yourself in that manner for money -- that all goes into the factor of manipulation and seduction," Eagleson said. "That was a whole key point that we discussed on and on and on ... that was the beginning seed."
Juror Lisa Pagano said she was not sure whether Linehan tried to cancel the life insurance before Leppink's death as an insurance agent testified. She wasn't sure why Linehan wanted Leppink killed. "We didn't have to come up with a motive; that wasn't part of our instructions," she said.
A mile east of the courthouse, Carlin heard the guilty verdict on a television news flash at the Anchorage jail. Linehan's defense team "shot themselves in the foot by not presenting the truth of what happened," he said in a telephone interview. "The truth gets muddled when both sides are making things up."
Linehan's defense was that Carlin acted alone.
He plans to appeal his conviction.
"There's nothing in any one of those e-mails that has anything about his death," Carlin said when told jurors attributed their guilty verdict largely to the correspondence.
On the Hope note, he said, "In my mind -- and I wrote it -- it's nothing." It was just a diversion, he said, written so Linehan could visit a boyfriend in California and not have Leppink follow her, as he had before.
Until her arrest last year, Linehan lived in Olympia, Wash., the mother of a young daughter and a partner in a clinic with her doctor-husband.
Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland or call 257-4343.