ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Court of Appeals will hear arguments Thursday that Mechele Linehan was wrongly convicted of a murder conspiracy because the judge allowed evidence about her career as a stripper.
She was convicted in 2007 of conspiring with a man in love with her to kill Kent Leppink in 1996 for $1 million in life insurance money. Now 37, she is serving a 99-year sentence.
Leppink, a commercial fisherman, had been her fiance.
The gunman, John Carlin, was convicted separately. He died after a prison attack in 2008.
Linehan's lawyers argue that Superior Court Judge Philip Volland erred in allowing the jurors to hear information about her work as a stripper. It made her out to be a manipulative, cunning seductress who would murder for money, and it was the dominant theme of the trial, they said.
"To make up for the absence of evidence on what Linehan did, the state relied extensively on evidence of who Linehan was," her attorneys wrote in a brief. Among them is Alex Bryner, a recently retired Alaska Supreme Court judge.
State lawyers argue the evidence about dancing was relevant because the jurors had to understand how she met the victim and Carlin.
"It established Linehan's skills and experience in manipulating men," wrote Diane Wendlandt, the state appeals attorney. "Manipulating men was a skill essential to her profession."
The three-judge panel of the Alaska Appeals Court may be Linehan's best shot at overturning the conviction. The Alaska Supreme Court rarely hears criminal cases.
Shortly after Leppink's death, Linehan left Alaska for college, earned a master's degree, married a doctor, started a family and settled in Washington state. She was arrested in 2006.
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