Stranger puts up bail, Linehan leaves prison

May 12, 2010 

After spending two-and-a-half years in prison on a murder conviction that has since been thrown out, Mechele Linehan was released on bail Tuesday night when an East Coast businessman donated $25,000 to get her out.

Brian Watt, a chief financial officer from Chester Springs, Pa., gave the bail money because he believes Linehan is innocent and he wants "the process to play itself out" with a new trial.

He said he expects nothing in return.

He didn't want to give too many details about himself but said, "In the simplest sense, I'm an analyst. I build predictive models of consumer behavior for a living."

"I analyze complex situations for a living, and ... my conclusion (is) she is innocent. One hundred percent," he wrote in an e-mail.

A new trial for Linehan, 37, has been set for September, but it likely will be delayed to give her new defense team time to prepare.

Linehan's bail conditions say she must stay in the Anchorage area and essentially be under house arrest until her trial. She is allowed outside for two four-hour time periods a week. She will not be allowed to return to her home in Olympia, Wash. And she must always be in sight or sound of one her court-appointed third parties.

Watt has never met the Linehans or been to Alaska, he said. He became interested in the case after watching a TV show about it. He then started researching it.

"The narrative that was being told, in the media, on blogs, and reader commentary on the Internet, took on a life of its own," he said. "It appeared to me to be impossible for Mrs. Linehan to escape that pre-assembled story."

That story, as told by the Alaska State Troopers and prosecutor Pat Gullufsen, follows a Hollywood narrative of a femme fatale. It's a story line that resonated with jurors and led them to convict Linehan in 2007. But part of that narrative also led a higher court to overturn that conviction.

The Alaska Court of Appeals concluded the judge improperly allowed the jury to hear some evidence that "was subject to different interpretations and was hardly overwhelming."

The prosecution's version of events outshined the truth both in the courtroom and outside it, Watt said.

"It was as if the Internet hyenas had gathered at the watering hole, and they were going to rip the flesh from her bones, no matter what she said or did," Watt said.

After the Appeals Court overturned the conviction this year, Superior Court Judge Philip Volland set Linehan's bail at $250,000. But Linehan and her family had trouble coming up with the cash. To get a bail bondsman to put up the money, he charges a 10 percent fee, or $25,000 in this case. Watt's donation paid that fee.

Separately, Anchorage strip club owner and businessman Terry Stahlman offered his Big Timber Motel as the collateral for the bail, filling a requirement of the bondsman, in addition to the $25,000 paid by Watt, to have collateral before he posted the $250,000.

Volland last week rejected Stahlman's proposal to go around a bail bondsman and put up only the property as bond, not cash. By offering the motel as collateral now, Stahlman still risks losing it if she runs.

Watt, asked if this was the first time he had done something like this, said it wasn't but would not elaborate. "I guess I could have saved all the money I spent over the years on these type of projects, and retired early but I never wanted to retire anyways, so it's all good," the 47-year-old said.

Linehan was convicted in 2007 of murdering Kent Leppink in 1996. During the trial, prosecutors told a tale of the then-23-year-old Linehan convincing 39-year-old John Carlin to do the shooting. She was sentenced to 99 years in prison, the same sentence Carlin got.

Their Appeals Court ruling essentially turns back the clock to when Linehan was presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Linehan says she doesn't know who was behind the shooting. She and Carlin believed troopers botched the investigation.

Lacking a murder weapon and other concrete evidence, prosecutors used circumstantial evidence to win the 2007 conviction. Damaging testimony included Carlin's son saying he saw his father washing a gun -- the same make as the murder weapon. Carlin from prison later said he did clean a gun because he was worried someone planted it in his house and he didn't want troopers blaming him for the murder.


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

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