Former stripper convicted of murder in fiance's death

Mechele Linehan shows little emotion upon hearing verdict

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A former stripper accused of borrowing from a movie plot to kill her fiance before she recreated herself as a cookie-baking doctor's wife was convicted of first-degree murder Monday in the decade-old death.

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Mechele Linehan, 35, was charged with conspiring with another fiancé to kill Kent Leppink, who was shot three times in 1996 on an isolated trail 90 minutes outside Anchorage.

Linehan exhibited no emotion as the verdict was read. Superior Court Judge Philip Volland allowed her husband, Colin, "one final embrace" before she was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.

Outside the courtroom, Colin Linehan was visibly shaken and tightlipped.

Leppink's mother, Betsy Leppink, said, "God is good," as she left the courtroom.

Sentencing was set for Jan. 25. Linehan faces 20 to 99 years in prison.

In the monthlong trial, prosecutors claimed Linehan was following the plot of the 1994 movie, "The Last Seduction," in which a femme fatale coaxes her lover into killing her husband for money.

Linehan's other former fiance, John Carlin III, was convicted in April of Leppink's murder and will be sentenced in November.

Linehan's sensational trial was full of tawdry details about her lifestyle and alleged manipulation of men she met while dancing at the Great Alaskan Bush Co. strip club in Anchorage.

Prosecutors had little direct evidence, but attempted to prove that Linehan was in on planning Leppink's murder to cash in on a $1 million insurance policy, not realizing Leppink had removed her as the beneficiary just days before his death.

"This person manipulated the circumstances with her guile and deception," prosecutor Pat Gullufsen told the jury during his closing argument. "All she needed was someone to kill him."

Linehan is now married to Dr. Colin Linehan of Olympia, Wash., and mother of an 8-year-old daughter enrolled in Catholic school.

But in 1996, she was Mechele Hughes, who socialized and danced under the name "Bobby Joe" at the club where she took home $1,000 to $3,000 a night.

A former stripper, Lora Aspiotis, testified that she watched the movie "The Last Seduction," with actress Linda Fiorentino, with Linehan and that Linehan admired the tough-talking Fiorentino character.

"She told me that the character was her heroine and that she wanted to be just like her," Aspiotis said.

Days before Leppink's murder, Linehan made a call purportedly to cancel Leppink's $1 million life insurance policy. She was actually trying to find out if the policy was still active, Gullufsen said.

"There is no hidden language in there. It was to get the money. They needed it," Linehan lawyer Kevin Fitzgerald said of her attempts to get the premium back.

But that's when the plot was set in motion, prosecutors said.

Gullufsen said Linehan and Carlin cooked up the plot to lure Leppink to a nonexistent cabin in Hope, a secluded gold mining community south of Anchorage, to kill him.

They had her disappear and fabricated a series of e-mails and notes that they knew Leppink would find, prosecutors said.

The correspondence indicated Linehan was hiding out at a cabin near Hope. Prosecutors said Carlin brought Leppink to the isolated area where he shot him three times with a .44 Magnum.

Prosecutors did not have the evidence to make an arrest at the time.

The Alaska State Troopers cold-case unit caught a break in 2005 when they interviewed Carlin's son, who was underage in 1996 and wasn't allowed by his father to be interviewed. As an adult, he gave investigators enough damning testimony to bring charges against his father and Linehan last year.

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