OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A couple of neighbors who knew Mechele Linehan say they are baffled a judge sentenced her to 99 years in prison for a crime they have no doubt she didn't commit.
Jurors saw it differently when they convicted Linehan, 35, of Olympia, of first-degree murder in October. On Wednesday, a judge in Anchorage, where she was tried, gave her the maximum sentence despite pleas of leniency from Linehan and her family and friends.
Neighbors near the home of Linehan and her husband, Colin, say there's no way the friendly, honest woman they knew could be capable of conspiring to murder.
"I'm completely baffled," said Kevin Shamel, who moved in across the street from the Linehans two years ago. "I don't understand how it could turn out the way it did."
Linehan and her daughter introduced themselves to Shamel and his wife, Terri Plewa, when they brought over a plate of cookies, Shamel said. The families would meet for dinners and movies.
Shamel said he and his wife have exchanged many letters with Linehan while she has been in prison. His wife went to Anchorage for part of Linehan's trial.
LINEHAN STILL OPTIMISTIC
Shamel said Linehan remains optimistic that she will be released one day soon.
"She's positive to the point of naivete," he said. "She's innocent. She knows she's innocent. And she feels she will be exonerated, certainly."
Neighbor Debby Saunders said she often talked to Linehan working in her yard or walking the dog. She was struck by her neighbor's gentle and kind nature, she said.
"I still think she's innocent," Saunders said. "So does everybody else that knew her."
Linehan was convicted of conspiring with a boyfriend to kill a man in 1996 for a $1 million life-insurance payout. The victim, Kent Leppink, had removed Linehan as the beneficiary days before his death. Prosecutors have portrayed Linehan as manipulative and deceitful.
Leppink was found dead near Hope, about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, on May 2, 1996. The fisherman was shot with .44-caliber gun in the back, abdomen and cheek.
Last spring, an Anchorage jury found co-defendant John Carlin III, 50, guilty of first-degree murder in connection with Leppink's death.
Linehan is a former stripper in Anchorage who started a new life, eventually marrying a doctor, moving to Olympia and raising a daughter.
She plans to appeal her conviction. If unsuccessful, she won't be eligible for parole until she is 68.