Judge dismisses murder indictment against Linehan

GRAND JURY EVIDENCE: Dead man's letter implicating stripper was reason for judge's decision.

Anchorage Daily NewsDecember 14, 2011 

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has dismissed a murder indictment against Mechele Linehan, accused of conspiring to kill her fiance in 1996.

Linehan, at the time a 23-year-old dancer at the Great Alaskan Bush Company, left Alaska and eventually married a Washington state doctor before she was indicted for causing Kent Leppink's death in 2006. A jury found her guilty, but the Alaska Appeals Court threw out the conviction last year. State prosecutors decided to pursue another trial and Linehan, now 39, was again set to be tried for murder under the original indictment.

But Judge Philip Volland dismissed the indictment Tuesday based on evidence presented to the grand jury, specifically, a letter from Leppink to his parents implicating Linehan, according to state prosecutor Paul Miovas.

"Take Mechele DOWN. Make sure she is prosecuted," Leppink wrote days before his body was found.

The letter "corrupted" the grand jury, said Linehan's lawyer, Cynthia Strout, at a September court hearing. Why should the same evidence cited by the Appeals Court in overturning her conviction, Strout argued, be allowed in a grand jury proceeding?

Volland apparently agreed after mulling over the legal implications for more than three months, Miovas said.

Leppink's mother, Betsy, read the letter to the grand jury that handed up the 2006 indictment, and Linehan's lawyer argued the letter was hearsay, Volland wrote in his Tuesday order dismissing the indictment.

"The Court of Appeals repeatedly stated that the 'letter from the grave' 'appreciably affected' the jury's verdict at Linehan's trial," Volland wrote. "If it did so at a trial where the evidence was contested, defense counsel present, and the jury given an even stronger limiting instruction on the use of the letter, this court cannot find that Betsy Leppink's repetition of Kent Leppink's accusatory statement in the letter was not a decisive factor in the grand jury's decision to indict."

Therefore, Volland wrote, the indictment should be dismissed. The state has 30 days in which to re-indict Linehan, the judge said. A status hearing is set for Jan. 17.

Miovas said Wednesday the state still might pursue another indictment, but he wasn't sure yet what course the prosecution would take.

"We're assessing the options, and we'll make a decision in the near future," Miovas said.

Strout, reached by phone late Wednesday, said Volland made the correct decision, but it doesn't mean the case against Linehan is finished, she said.

"It's a first step to getting the case dismissed and getting justice for her," Strout said.

Prosecutors said in 2006 that Linehan manipulated another former lover, John Carlin III, and convinced him to kill Leppink, who was found shot to death in a wooded area along the Hope Highway in May 1996. Neither man apparently knew the other was engaged to Linehan at the time. Prosecutors said she was motivated by greed: Linehan thought she was the beneficiary on Leppink's $1 million life insurance policy.

Strout, reached by phone late Wednesday, said Volland made the correct decision, but it doesn't mean the case against Linehan is finished, she said.

Linehan's sister testified to the grand jury that Linehan told her Leppink "got what he deserved," Judge Volland wrote. Carlin's son also testified at trial he saw the pair washing a .44-caliber Desert Eagle handgun that police believed was used in the killing.

"It's a first step to getting the case dismissed and getting justice for her," Strout said.

Carlin was convicted in a separate trial and later was killed while in prison.

Linehan, who spent more than two years behind bars following her 2007 conviction, has been out on bail since May 2010.


Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

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