She was once locked up for the murder of her fiance, but with her conviction and indictment both tossed, Mechele Linehan is now free to go, a judge determined Tuesday.
And go she did: Within hours of being cleared to leave Anchorage on Tuesday afternoon, Linehan and her husband were on a plane out of Alaska, her lawyer said.
Though prosecutors are still considering an attempt to re-indict Linehan, 39, for the 1996 murder of Kent Leppink, Superior Court Judge Larry Card ordered the bail and court-ordered conditions keeping her in Alaska dismissed.
It's the first time since Linehan's arrest in 2006 that the ex-Anchorage stripper, who built a new life for herself as a soccer mom and doctor's wife in Washington state, has been allowed to travel freely.
Card's decision to exonerate her bail was largely a formality after prosecutors failed to re-indict her by the previously agreed-upon Tuesday deadline.
"I now have real matters to attend to," Card said as Linehan, her supporters and a herd of reporters and television photographers headed for the courtroom door.
Linehan declined to answer any questions on her way out, saying only that her lawyer would make a statement. Her husband, Colin Linehan, briefly jostled with one of three television photographers trailing the Linehans before the couple disappeared into an elevator.
"This is a hugely stressful situation," said Linehan's lawyer, Cynthia Strout. "Her life has been on hold for five years under this indictment that was grossly unfair."
Presentations to the grand jury that indicted Linehan in 2006 included a letter from Leppink to his parents, later introduced at her trial, that said in part, "Take Mechele DOWN. Make sure she is prosecuted." Prosecutors said Linehan convinced another former lover, John Carlin III, to kill Leppink, because she hoped to gain as much as $1 million from Leppink's life insurance policy.
Carlin's son testified that he saw Carlin and Linehan cleaning a .44-caliber Desert Eagle handgun that police believed was used in the killing, and Linehan's sister testified that Linehan told her Leppink "got what he deserved."
Carlin was convicted in a separate trial and later killed in prison.
Linehan was convicted, sentenced to 99 years, and put behind bars for more than two years until the Alaska Court of Appeals threw out the conviction in 2010. The three-judge panel said two pieces of evidence -- Leppink's letter and a movie, "The Last Seduction," parts of which the former prosecution team played in court -- should not have been allowed in the trial.
Strout later argued that the indictment itself should be thrown out because the letter was hearsay and "corrupted" the grand jury. The trial judge, Philip Volland, agreed in a December ruling and dismissed the indictment because of the "letter from the grave," he wrote. That left the prosecutor currently assigned to the case, Assistant Attorney General Paul Miovas, and his higher-ups at the Department of Law with a looming decision: Without the letter, should they again present the case to a grand jury?
"We're still in a holding pattern," Miovas said Tuesday. "There are a few legal issues that we need to work through before we can be at a point where that would even be possible."
One major obstacle is that Carlin's son, John Carlin IV, might not be a "viable witness," Miovas said. Carlin has recently declined to make any further statements to the authorities and is directing all inquiries to his lawyer, something the prosecutors, by law, must respect, Miovas said.
As prosecutors work with Carlin and his lawyer, Linehan's fate remains undecided, Miovas said.
"I don't think, at this point, we know what the final conclusion is. It still hasn't been resolved yet," Miovas said.
Strout said it should be clear, after Linehan's conviction and her indictment were thrown out, that the state is wasting its time and money.
"It's a huge amount of resources being spent on a case where, we're hoping they realize, they don't have the evidence to proceed," Strout said.
Miovas said the cost of prosecuting Linehan has not been part of the discussion about seeking another indictment.
"I've never discussed, with anybody, those types of matters," Miovas said.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE
Anchorage Daily News