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Stranger puts up bail, Linehan leaves prison

Megan Holland
Mechele Linehan, in court April 27, can go outside twice a week and must always be in sight or sound of a third-party custodian.
BILL ROTH / Daily News archive 2010
Mechele Linehan appeared in Superior Court for a pre-trial conference April 27, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Her conviction overturned, Mechele Linehan is back to being presumed innocent, the judge said.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Mechele Linehan during her March 2008 sentencing.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News file photo
Mechele Linehan listens at her sentencing hearing after her mother-in-law spoke on her behalf on April 2, 2008. Linehan was sentenced to 99 years in prison for her role in the death of Kent Leppink.
Photo by / Anchorage Daily News
Defendant Michele Linehan talks with friends and family members during a break in closing arguments at her murder trial Wednesday, October 17, 2007.
Mechele Linehan, right, listens to the prosecution response to her defense team's motion to acquit Thursday October 11, 2007 at Nesbett Courthouse. Defense attorney Wayne Fricke listens at left.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Melissa Hughes, sister of Mechele Linehan, testified in court, Mar. 23, 2007, about a computer Linehan had owned.
Jim Lavrakas
Mechele Linehan reacts to the guilty verdict in her trial for murder, Oct. 22, 2007.
Defendant Michele Linehan, and her husband Colin, return to the courtroom after a morning break to hear her attorney deliver closing arguments at her trial for murder in Anchorage Superior Court Wednesday, October 17, 2007.
Prosecutor Pat Gullufsen summarizes the State's evidence during closing arguments at the trial of Mechele Linehan Wednesday, October 17, 2007.
Mechele Linehan, left, walks into Anchorage Superior Court arm in arm with her attorney Kevin Fitzgerald before she was found guilty of murder in the death of Kent Leppink Monday, Oct. 22, 2007.
Defendant Michele Linehan and her husband, Colin, return to the courtroom after a morning break to hear her attorney deliver closing arguments at her trial for murder in Anchorage Superior Court Wednesday, October 17, 2007.
Jim Lavrakas
Michele Linehan listens with one of her attorneys, Wayne Fricke, during closing arguments at Linehan's trial for murder Wednesday, October 17, 2007.
From left, Colin Linehan, prosecutor Pat Gullufsen, defense attorney Kevin Fitzgerald and defendant Mechele Linehan stand as the jury returns to deliver their guilty verdict. Jurors said Linehan's life as an exotic dancer played a role in their decision. "When ... you were soliciting yourself to be attractive sexually in all those ways -- you were soliciting yourself in that manner for money -- that all goes into the factor of manipulation and seduction," said juror Christine Eagleson.
Mechele Linehan prepares to leave the courthouse in Anchorage on October 9, 2007, after another day of testimony in the murder trial involving the former stripper, who is accused of conspiring to murder fiance Kent Leppink in 1996.
Dr. Colin Linehan speaks with his wife, Mechele, during a recess in her murder trial.
Prosecutor Pat Gullufsen shows John Carlin IV a replica of the gun that his father owned Oct. 1, 2007, at Mechele Linehan's murder trial. Carlin's testimony countered a defense argument that John Carlin III acted alone in killing Kent Leppink to protect his son and to have Linehan for himself.
Defendant Mechele Linehan, center, confers with attorneys Wayne Fricke, left, and Kevin Fitzgerald between witnesses Thursday at Nesbett Courthouse. Prosecutors say Linehan used the plot of a movie thriller to set up the murder of her fiance Kent Leppink.
Scott Hilke, former fiance of Mechele Linehan, testified that he never hid his intimate relationship with Linehan from Kent Leppink and John Carlin.
Mechele Linehan confers with attorney Wayne Fricke Sept. 20, 2007, the first day of her trial.
Mechele Linehan listens as her lawyer speaks in court.
Kent Leppink's parents, Kenneth and Betsy Leppink, embrace after John Carlin III was found guilty of Kent's 1996 murder. Carlin and Kent Leppink were both engaged to Linehan.
Michele Linehan speaks with one of her attorneys, Wayne Fricke, during closing arguments at her trial for murder Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2007.
Alaska State Troopers take Mechele Linehan into custody after the jury in her murder trial found her guilty Monday.
Mechele Linehan
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Mechele Linehan talks with her lawyer Kevin Fitzgerald in Anchorage on Oct. 19, 2006. She is charged with first-degree murder in the 1996 death of fiance Kent Leppink and is in jail after postponement Oct. 19, 2006 of a decision about whether she will be allowed to await trial at her home in Olympia, Wash.

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.


By MEGAN HOLLAND
mholland@adn.com