When Dr. Colin Linehan's turn came to say something about his wife in an Anchorage courtroom Friday, he turned his back to the judge, faced the audience in the packed spectator section and spoke directly to the parents of the man Mechele Linehan was convicted of murdering.
"I don't know the hole in your heart -- what it's like to lose a child. I can't imagine," he said with the passion of a man fighting for his wife's freedom. He said, as he has said before, that his wife is innocent.
"I just want to say my prayers are with you," he told the now elderly couple.
He paused. "OK?"
But Betsy and Kenneth Leppink were unlikely to be moved by his sympathy. Both had already told Superior Court Judge Philip Volland that as far as they are concerned, Mechele Linehan was and is "evil."
It was one emotional moment of many during the sentencing hearing for Linehan, convicted last October of conspiring with a boyfriend to kill Kent Leppink in 1996 for a $1 million life insurance payout. The hearing went all day Friday and is scheduled to resume Wednesday when Volland will listen to the lawyers' recommendations and arguments, then decide how long Linehan should serve in prison.
Prosecutor Pat Gullufsen is asking for 99 years, the maximum for first-degree murder. Linehan's lawyer, her family and friends are pleading for mercy in what they say is a wrongful conviction, asking for five years at most.
Linehan, whose trial was covered by the national media, whose attractiveness is routinely mentioned, was brought into court Friday in handcuffs, wearing a baggy red jumpsuit, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Since she was first arrested in 2006, Alaska State Troopers and Gullufsen have described her as manipulative and greedy. Former troopers cold case investigator Linda Branchflower has used the word the Leppinks did: "evil."
In five hours of testimony, a Washington, D.C., forensic psychiatrist called by the defense said that's not true. After an extensive evaluation, Dr. Mark Mills concluded, "She is unlikely to be someone who schemed or planned the murder of anybody."
Mills described the 35-year-old former stripper, now a Washington wife, mother and businesswoman, as being highly intelligent and extremely social. But she is also naive and sometimes in denial about circumstances around her, he said.
She does not like to be told what to do, but she is not a sociopath or psychopath, he said.
If she did commit the crime -- and he didn't suggest she did -- her likelihood of recidivism is very low, Mills told the judge.
In other testimony on Friday, Linehan's roommate from the '90s told the court "there was just something that alarmed" her about Leppink.
Honi Martin, who like Linehan danced at the Great Alaskan Bush Company, said 36-year-old Leppink would often come to their Wasilla house and spend the night on the couch, but there was nothing romantic about his relationship with Linehan. Martin left Alaska a year before Leppink's murder.
Linehan has maintained that Leppink was a Bush Company customer who became a friend, but nothing more. She says Leppink became obsessed with her and lied to his parents and family about their relationship.
It was a routine part of a stripper's lifestyle to accept gifts from clients, Martin said. She called it the "damsel in distress syndrome" -- that men would try to "rescue" the strippers and win them over with presents.
Linehan received expensive gifts from Leppink, which the prosecutor says is evidence of a strong, romantic relationship between the two.
When Martin told Linehan back in 1995 that she should be careful of Leppink, Linehan replied that Leppink was just lonely and was harmless, Martin testified.
When it was her turn to speak, Betsy Leppink, the victim's mother, reminded the judge of something Linehan's sister told troopers: that Mechele, an avid animal lover, did not seem upset by the death of Leppink, an avid hunter.
"Mechele told her sister that Kent should have been tortured like the animals he killed," she told the judge. "Your honor, may it please Mechele to know, he was tortured -- by her."
Leppink said that right before her son was killed, he lost weight, was emotionally distraught and financially broken.
Defense attorney Kevin Fitzgerald tried to put a juror from Linehan's trial on the stand. Julie Thrasher, Juror No. 4, was an alternate dismissed before deliberations began, so did not vote on the verdict. Volland didn't let her testify, but in a letter to him, Thrasher said she would have voted not guilty.
When the sentencing hearing resumes Wednesday afternoon, Linehan will have the opportunity to speak if she wants to. She has never addressed the court in her own defense.
Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland or call 257-4343.