Prosecutors will not seek a new trial against accused murderer Mechele Linehan, attorneys from the Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals said Monday.
For Linehan, the announcement ends uncertainty in a case that has stretched on for more than five years.
Linehan was a 23-year-old dancer at the Great Alaskan Bush Company when her then-fiance Kent Leppink was found shot to death in a wooded area near Hope in 1996.
She had left Alaska, moved to Washington, married and started a family when she was indicted for conspiring to kill Leppink in 2006.
Prosecutors said she manipulated John Carlin III, a former lover, into killing Leppink. Both men thought they were engaged to Linehan, according to prosecutors' version of events.
In 2007, a jury found her guilty of murder. Carlin was convicted in a separate trial and sentenced to 99 years. He was later beaten to death in prison.
Linehan served 2 1/2 years in prison before the Alaska Court of Appeals overturned her conviction in 2010, according to her attorney, Cynthia Strout.
The appeals court found that a letter Leppink wrote days before his death to his parents implicating Linehan should not have been allowed as evidence against her.
After the first trial was overturned, prosecutors sought to again try Linehan for murder under the same indictment.
In August 2011, Linehan filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the indictment, saying that the same letter found inadmissible by the appeals court had been presented to the grand jury that indicted her.
In December of 2011, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Philip Volland sided with Linehan, granting her motion and dismissing the indictment for first-degree murder.
At that point, prosecutors were left to decide whether they should attempt to present the case to a grand jury again without the letter, said assistant attorney general Paul Miovas.
They ultimately decided the answer was no, Miovas said.
"We just don't feel like we have sufficient evidence to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.
Another factor, he said, was that some witnesses who were key to the case are now deceased or otherwise unavailable, he said.
Miovas said prosecutors had talked with Leppink's family about the decision.
"They are disappointed but understand the decision we have to make," he said.
Linehan, reached by phone in Washington where she has been living with her family since January, when a Superior Court judge dismissed bail and court-ordered conditions keeping her in Alaska, directed questions to her attorney.
Strout released a statement on behalf of Linehan, saying that the first prosecution team hid important exculpatory evidence before the original trial.
"The new prosecution team made the right decision now to end things," the statement said.
Strout also noted that Linehan spent five years away from her family during the time she was prosecuted, incarcerated or limited by the bail conditions during her appeal.
Linehan wouldn't have anything else to say Monday, Strout said. "She's soaking it all in."
Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4344.More on Mechele Linehan
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
Anchorage Daily News