Prosecutors say Linehan will again stand trial for murder (2/23/10)

NO 'LAST SEDUCTION': Movie and letter won't be allowed as evidence this time.

February 22, 2010 

Mechele Linehan, whose murder conviction was overturned this month by a higher Alaska court, will be tried again for the 1996 murder of her former fiance, state prosecutors said Monday.

"We are confident that there is sufficient evidence to support a second conviction," said Deputy Attorney General Rick Svobodny.

But in the new trial, prosecutors won't be able to present their theory that the 1994 movie "The Last Seduction" inspired Linehan to plot Kent Leppink's murder. And they are blocked from introducing as evidence Leppink's accusatory letter predicting his own death at the hands of Linehan.

The Alaska Court of Appeals said those two pieces of evidence unfairly biased the jurors against Linehan, and on Feb. 5 the three appeals judges threw out her conviction.

The Linehan case and her 2007 trial created a sensation. The story line prosecutors presented of a manipulative young woman playing older men for their money, resulting in the death of Leppink, drew national media coverage.

Prosecutors say that in 1996, when Linehan was 23 years old, she manipulated one former fiance, John Carlin III, 39, to shoot another former fiance, Leppink, 36, so she could get his $1 million life insurance policy payout. Carlin was also convicted of the murder; he died in prison. Both Linehan and Carlin said they were innocent. No hard evidence -- DNA, the murder weapon, fingerprints -- linked the pair to the murder, and jurors convicted them on circumstantial evidence. The appeals judges said the evidence was subject to different interpretations and was "hardly overwhelming."

Linehan, now 37, has been serving her 99-year sentence at Hiland Mountain, the state's women's prison in Eagle River.

The same prosecutor who handled Linehan's first trial, Pat Gullufsen, has been reassigned to the case, according to Chief Assistant Attorney General Susan McLean.

The evidence left over that the prosecution could present includes e-mails exchanged between Linehan, Leppink and Carlin that show their entwined relationships; a note Linehan left for Leppink that eventually drew him to Hope, where he was killed; testimony from Carlin's son saying he saw Linehan watching as his father washed a handgun in the bathroom sink days after Leppink's body was found; and the life insurance.

But just as the prosecution built its case brick by brick during the first trial, the defense has had an explanation for each piece of evidence. For example, Linehan and Leppink had life insurance policies on each other and both tried to cancel them in the days before the murder.

Linehan has said her friendship with Leppink started going sour in the weeks before he was killed. He was becoming increasingly obsessed with her.

Dr. Colin Linehan of Olympia, Wash., the defendant's husband, has railed against the prosecutors for their portrayal in the first trial of his wife as a femme fatale. They created a character to match the false story they thought would sell the jurors on a conviction, he said. But that woman is not his wife. She may have been wild when she was in her early 20s, he said, but she quickly grew out of that and went on to earn a master's degree, be active in her community and start a family.

Asked if he thinks his wife can get a fair trial in Anchorage after so much publicity, he said Monday, "I don't know. I'm sure that's something our lawyers will examine."

Linehan's next court appearance hasn't been scheduled yet.

"It's as if the clock winds back to the period before she was tried, back to her first court appearance after she was indicted," said Jeff Feldman, one of Linehan's defense attorneys, in explaining the process going forward.

This means the case will go back to Superior Court Judge Philip Volland, who presided over the first trial and will likely set a status hearing at which bail will be discussed, Feldman said. After she was arrested in 2006, Linehan was out on bail for a year before the trial started.


Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland or call 257-4343.

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