Officials didn't protect Carlin, prisoner says

Megan Holland
MARC LESTER / Daily News archive 2008

More than five months after one of Alaska's most notorious criminals was beaten to death in prison, state troopers have not filed charges. Court documents involving another prisoner, though, may shed some light on what happened to John Carlin, best known as the gunman in the 1996 "stripper murder."

Other prisoners beat Carlin, 51, severely in three different incidents at the Spring Creek prison in Seward, according to court paperwork filed by inmate Donald Joseph in an ongoing civil lawsuit he has against the state Department of Corrections.

Joseph -- who has intimate knowledge because he was part of the first attack -- claims prison officials knew Carlin was in danger and didn't do enough to protect him. He does not say in his court papers who killed Carlin and denies having anything to do with the final, fatal assault.

Troopers have not been answering questions about the case. Sgt. Eugene Fowler, reached on Thursday, would only say, "We know who we are working for, and we are working for John Carlin. ... That's our job ... We are trying to put this thing together, and it is taking a long time because we are trying to do it the right way.

"That's the bottom line."

Carlin was convicted in 2007 of murdering Kent Leppink. Prosecutors say he conspired with a former Bush Company dancer, Mechele Linehan, to kill Leppink for a $1 million life insurance policy. Both were sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Department of Corrections paperwork confirms that Joseph and three other prisoners attacked Carlin in mid-September 2008.

"Prisoner Carlin claimed that he was lying on his bunk ... minding his own business when four prisoners rolled in and beat him up," according to a guard's report. "He told me that they were four big Native guys and the one punching him the most had tattoos across his knuckles."

Joseph was the only prisoner in the housing unit with tattoos on his knuckles, the report says.

Joseph was put into "the hole" -- locked up alone -- for punishment and Carlin was put into protective custody, wrote Joseph.

Carlin's second beating was in a recreational yard, Joseph said. "He was let off (protective custody) and he immediately got his nose broke in a bloody assault that lasted for several minutes," he wrote.

It was after a third beating, on Oct. 27, 2008, that Carlin died.

An affidavit filed by a second prisoner supports Joseph's claim that Carlin tried to get help from prison officials. Donny Grossman wrote that Carlin sent notices to Spring Creek Superintendent John "Craig" Turnbull in late September, and one in early October to two corrections officers, saying "he felt his overall SAFETY was in serious jeopardy."

According to Grossman, Carlin said his request to transfer to another prison went unanswered.

In Alaska prisons, including Spring Creek Correctional Center where maximum-security, long-term inmates end up, prisoners regularly mingle within their modules, or housing units, and on work assignments. It is usually only at night that guards lock prisoners into their cells. Carlin was worried about his exposure to the other prisoners, Grossman says.

Joseph, 39, is serving time for assault, among other convictions. He has spent most of his life in prison. Grossman, 43, is serving a 99-year sentence for murder.

Why Carlin was so disliked by other inmates that he became the target of three attacks is not clear from the writings of Joseph or Grossman.

In a letter to a reporter after the first beating, Carlin speculated that his trouble with other prisoners may have had to do with him getting so much publicity, including two national network specials about his case.

Carlin had been at the Spring Creek prison about a month when he was attacked.

There may be other reasons for the assaults, though. Joseph calls Carlin "a racist bully" in his court document. Grossman says Carlin was being labeled a "snitch" and "rat."

Find Megan Holland online at or call 257-4343.