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Troopers say they mishandled case of killing in prison

Megan Holland
John Carlin surveys the courtroom at his murder trial Wednesday afternoon March 14, 2007 at the Nesbett Courthouse. Behind him is attorney Sidney Billingslea.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
John Carlin listens to testimony while flanked by attorney Sidney Billingslea, left, and investigator Link Fannon during his murder trial Wednesday afternoon March 14, 2007 at the Nesbett Courthouse.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
An undated letter between John Carlin III and Mechele Linehan entered as evidence in her trial for the murder of Kent Leppink. Linehan was convicted of first degree murder on Monday, October 22, 2007.
Marc Lester John Carlin III, left, listens as the jury foreman reads the guilty virdict on Tuesday, April 3, 2007. His lawyer Marcy McDannel is at right. Carlin was found guilty in the killing of Kent Leppink more than 10 years ago.
Photo by MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
John T. Carlin III * The Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Cold Case Unit, announced today that Mechele K. Linehan (aka Mechele Hughes)** and John T. Carlin III**, were each charged last week with one count of first degree murder in connection with the May 1, 1996 homicide of Kent Leppink.
During a interview in the Anchorage Jail on Wednesday, January 16, 2008, John Carlin III, indicated that he wanted to take the stand during his sentencing for the murder of Kent Leppink. Carlin thought Leppink killed himself in the bizarre decade-old case.
Photo by BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Marc Lester John Carlin III is led from an Anchorage courtroom after being found guilty in the murder of Kent Leppink on Tuesday, April 3, 2007. Leppink's father Kenneth Leppink watches at left.
Photo by MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Kent Leppink's parents Kenneth and Betsy Leppink embrace after John Carlin III was found guilty of Kent's 1996 murder on Tuesday, April 3, 2007. John Carlin III and Kent Leppink were both engaged to the same woman, former Anchorage stripper Mechele Linehan. Linehan is also charged in the murder.
Photo by MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News

Alaska State Troopers say they have mishandled the investigation into the beating death of prison inmate John Carlin III, the alleged co-conspirator with Mechele Linehan in the 1996 Kent Leppink murder. They have vowed to move forward with the case and file charges.

"We are trying to find out why we dropped the ball on it," said Col. Audie Holloway, head of the troopers. "It's unacceptable that this thing has taken this long."

Carlin, 51, was killed at the state's Spring Creek Correctional Center in October 2008. Troopers have released little information other than to say another inmate or multiple inmates attacked him and that he died from some sort of blunt-force trauma. It was the third severe beating to Carlin since he arrived at the Seward prison just months before to begin his 99-year sentence for murdering Leppink.

Troopers investigate crimes committed in prison. For one and a half years troopers have been saying that Carlin's death is an ongoing investigation and that evidence such as lab results was still being processed.

Holloway confirmed that troopers have been waiting on DNA evidence in the case. He explained that because of the backlog in DNA sampling at the crime lab, troopers and district attorneys constantly prioritize what gets processed. "For some reason we didn't do that as well in this case, or as well as we should have," he said. "Whether we didn't put enough emphasis on it to the D.A., or the D.A. didn't put enough emphasis on it to the lab."

He said he was trying to find out where the miscommunication occurred.

"I don't have an excuse. It's just the way it is," he said.

'PLEAS FOR HELP'

Holloway said the case was not deliberately shoved aside because the victim was a convicted murderer -- a sentiment expressed by some of Carlin's supporters.

"That's not the case," the colonel said. "But certainly the fact that the suspects are in jail does have some play to it, because we have people who are not in jail who should be in jail."

"But that shouldn't play that much into it," he said.

Carlin's son, John Carlin IV, is suing the state Department of Corrections over the death. "I'm anxiously awaiting justice. I desperately want to finally find out what happened to my father," he said Monday.

The younger Carlin filed the civil lawsuit in February. No trial date has been set. He is seeking at least $500,000 in damages.

"Due to the repeated nature of the assaults and Carlin's pleas for help, the officers and/or employees and/or agents of defendants knew or should have known of the danger to Carlin's personal safety," the lawsuit says.

Three correctional officers are named as defendants in the lawsuit: John Cox, Andrew Houser and Jody Letter. Probation officer Clifton Simons is also a named. But their roles in what happened are not clear in the court filings. Efforts to reach them and their lawyers were unsuccessful.

The lawsuit says Carlin tried to seek help from prison officials. He asked to be separated from the attackers or moved to another prison, it says.

APPEALING HIS CONVICTION

One prisoner who claims responsibility for the first attack, Donald Joseph, has said that he beat Carlin to teach him a lesson about respecting Natives. Carlin had turned a TV channel while several Native inmates were watching, Joseph said.

The Department of Corrections would not comment because of the ongoing litigation, a spokesman said.

Both Carlin and Linehan said they didn't kill Leppink. Prosecutors say Linehan coaxed Carlin to shoot Leppink so she could collect on the victim's life insurance policy. The Alaska Court of Appeals tossed out Linehan's conviction this year because some evidence was improperly presented to jurors, but prosecutors plan to try her again.

The Alaska Supreme Court is considering whether to invalidate Carlin's guilty verdict because he's dead and his appeal was pending when he died.

State prosecutors want it upheld. They have a strong incentive. If it is overturned, they may not be able to use their theory that Linehan persuaded Carlin to do the shooting.

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


By MEGAN HOLLAND
mholland@adn.com