An Anchorage strip club and hotel owner wants to put up his property as collateral to let Mechele Linehan go free on bail.
Terry Stahlman is offering his downtown Big Timber Motel to the Alaska Court System as assurance that Linehan, who faces a second trial for murder, won't run. The property is valued at three times the $250,000 bail.
Stahlman said he and his 17-year-old son, Kameron, who is supposed to inherit the hotel when he turns 18 next month, decided to get involved after watching Linehan's trial, appeal and the overturning of her conviction. When they realized she and her husband, Colin, would have difficulty coming up with the bail money because Colin recently declared bankruptcy, they offered help.
The Stahlmans have never met the Linehans and say they want nothing in return for the free loan.
"It's really sweet. I'm really grateful," Mechele Linehan said from Hiland Mountain, the state's women's prison. "It's just so big to me."
The 37-year-old from Olympia, Wash., said she's moved by the thousands of letters of support she's received since her 2007 conviction. In particular, she's touched by Alaskans' response. If she makes bail, one of her proposed third-party custodians, Barbara Sheridan, is an Anchorage woman she met after her trial. Sheridan said she agreed to the tough third-party conditions -- to be in constant sight or sound of Linehan -- because she feels like the justice system failed the accused woman.
Kameron Stahlman, a senior at Service High School who is on his way to Gonzaga University, said he attended the 2009 Court of Appeals hearing for an Alaska Studies class. He also thinks Linehan was treated unfairly by the court system.
"I kind of thought it was a little far-fetched," he said. "I've never heard of or come across somebody who had the power to manipulate another person to kill, you know?"
Terry Stahlman, 67, owns rental properties in Anchorage as well as the Showboat "bikini" clubs in Fairbanks and Anchorage. He changed the former strip clubs to bikini clubs when his daughter became a teenager, he said. He's trying to get out of the nightclub business, with both properties up for sale.
"Knowing dancers the way I do know dancers -- I've had 5,000 of them work for me over the last 20 years -- I have a strong gut feeling that this woman is innocent of murder," he said.
"She's one of those dancers that I've had -- they are 18, 19, 20 years old, and they do what they do, then they grow out of it. And they go back to being themselves. And who Mechele Linehan is, is that she's a doctor's wife and she's got a kid."
Linehan is accused of conspiring to kill Kent Leppink in 1996. Prosecutors say she met Leppink when she was stripping at the Bush Company. They say she plotted with John Carlin, a man in love with her at the time, to kill Leppink for a $1 million life insurance policy payout.
Linehan and Carlin said they were innocent and fought the charges. Carlin was killed in prison just after starting his 99-year sentence.
Linehan's mother, Sandy McWilliams, of Louisiana, said the family had run out of extended family and friends to ask for donations. They were having trouble coming up with the $25,000 fee to pay a bail bondsman to put up the $250,000 bail bond set by Superior Court Judge Philip Volland last week.
Stahlman said he owns the Big Timber clean and clear. The Fifth Avenue motel has 27 rooms and is assessed at $740,000, according to municipal property records. He said it's his main source of income.
Prosecutor Pat Gullufsen said he won't oppose the proposed property bond, but Volland is the one who will make the decision. It is rare that the court agrees to take property collateral in lieu of cash, meaning the proposal may not go through, he said.
A date for Linehan's second trial has not yet been set. At her last court appearance, Volland emphasized that because of the Court of Appeals decision she is back to being innocent until proved guilty.
Stahlman said he watched the trial proceedings with keen interest and recognized the world that was being described in the courtroom. "She's dating two or three guys, and dating isn't really the right word for what these dancers do. They're customers. And the name of the game is to get the customers to buy table dances and to help them with their rent or tuition, etc. It's what happens," he said. "I believe she got caught with these three guys, and she's doing what dancers do. I don't believe for one minute that she said to (Carlin) that I want you to kill (Leppink)."
"They're all madly in love with what they perceive up there on the stage, which is an illusion," he said of the men involved in the case. "That's not the person that she is at all. I think the real Mechele Linehan is what we see down there in the state of Washington."
Linehan danced for 18 months to make money, then returned to her home in Louisiana for college.
"It was her association with the strip-club industry that got her in trouble in the first place," he said. "I'm hoping it is going to end on a positive note."
As of Wednesday night, a court hearing hadn't been set on the proposed bail.
Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland or call 257-4343.More on Mechele Linehan
By MEGAN HOLLAND