Judge says Mechele Linehan can be released on bail

Posted: Thursday, April 29, 2010

ANCHORAGE - A former stripper awaiting a second murder trial in the death of one of her fiancés could soon be released on bail.

Superior Court Judge Philip Volland - the same judge that presided over Mechele Linehan's 2007 trial in which the Alaska Court of Appeals determined errors were made - approved bail in the amount of $250,000 on Wednesday.

"I think Ms. Linehan has a lot of incentive to stick around ... and see if she can get a different outcome," Volland said.

Linehan, 37, was convicted in October 2007 of plotting with another man to murder Kent Leppink. But the Court of Appeals in February ruled that Volland erred during the trial, including allowing jurors to read a letter from Leppink saying that if he should die suspiciously to make sure that Linehan was prosecuted.

Leppink's body was found along a remote trail south of Anchorage in 1996.

The state decided to retry Linehan, whom prosecutors say was inspired by watching the 1994 movie "The Last Seduction," in which a femme fatale coaxes her lover into killing her husband for money.

Volland said Wednesday perhaps the state's case is now weaker because "one brick" prosecutors built their case on - Leppink's letter - won't be allowed in the second trial.

John Carlin III, another man who hoped to marry Linehan and who was convicted of killing Leppink, has since been killed in prison. If his testimony from the first trial is allowed, Volland noted it wouldn't be as strong without him giving it now, three years later.

"Certainly, the state's case has changed," Volland said.

In 2007, Volland told Linehan she had committed "a heinous crime" and sentenced her to a maximum 99 years in prison for Leppink's murder.

Volland said he did not have the same concerns about flight risk that he had before the first trial when he set a $150,000 cash-only bond. No longer did he have to fear that unseemly details about Linehan's past might encourage her to flee, he said.

"We have crossed that bridge, certainly," Volland said.

Linehan married a doctor, earned college degrees and became a mother and settled in Olympia, Wash., after her days as an exotic dancer ended.

To earn bail, she will have to come up with $25,000 cash, money that her lawyer said would be hard to come by. On Tuesday, Linehan asked for a public defender for her second trial. Volland said he'd rule on that request next week.

Linehan's mother has rented a studio apartment at the McKinley Towers in Anchorage where Linehan will stay with her court-approved custodians and be supervised 24 hours a day. She will have to adhere to an 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew and will get two, four-hour passes a week to leave the apartment with her custodians.

She could be released from prison as early as next week.

Her custodians include Barbara Sheridan, an Anchorage woman who followed Linehan's first trial.

"I felt we had done a disservice and no one else was stepping forward," Sheridan said, when asked why she was willing to be Linehan's custodian.

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