ANCHORAGE, Alaska – In the 1994 movie "The Last Seduction," a femme fatale coaxes her lover into killing her husband for money. Prosecutors say a beautiful stripper obsessed with the film followed the script to its murderous end.
Mechele Linehan, 34, is on trial on charges she masterminded the decade-old slaying of her fiance in hopes of collecting $1 million in insurance.
Life and art were so similar, prosecutors say, that they even sought, unsuccessfully, to have the movie shown to the jury.
It is a case of sex, greed and manipulation that has transfixed the Pacific Northwest, from Alaska to Washington state, where Linehan had made a new life for herself as a college graduate, doctor's wife and suburban soccer mom before cold-case investigators came calling.
Linehan — then known as Mechele Hughes — was one of the top girls at a strip club called the Great Alaska Bush Co. in 1996. A former co-worker said she was so sexy, she did not have to dance to earn big tips; men would pay just to talk to her.
Prosecutors say that is where the blonde borrowed the plot of "The Last Seduction" and had her fiance, 36-year-old fisherman Kent Leppink, killed.
"If it was not for Mechele Linehan, Kent Leppink would be alive today because she set the stage and at least wrote the ending," prosecutor Pat Gullufsen told the jury in his opening statement. "All she needed was someone to do the dirty work ... someone to pull the trigger."
That person, the prosecutor said, was John Carlin III, another fiance of Linehan's. Carlin was convicted in April of murdering Leppink.
Leppink's body was found by utility workers on the ground near a lonely trail in Hope, more than an hour's drive from Anchorage. He had been shot three times with a .44 Magnum. Prosecutors say Linehan and Carlin had lured him to the desolate mining community by fabricating a series of e-mails that Leppink found, saying Linehan was holed up in a cabin. The cabin did not exist.
According to prosecutors, Linehan wanted the proceeds from Leppink's life insurance policy. But what she did not know was that Leppink suspected evil afoot and changed the beneficiary to his parents days before he was murdered.
And in yet another film-noir twist, he sent a letter to his parents to be opened if something "fishy" happened to him. "Since you're reading this, you assume that I'm dead," he wrote, and then named Linehan, Carlin and another man who hoped to marry Linehan as possible suspects.
"Make sure she is prosecuted," he wrote.
Still, prosecutors did not have the evidence to make an arrest at the time. Linehan left stripping, and over the next decade she married a doctor, graduated from Saint Martin's University with a degree in psychology, had a daughter, and worked for a time as an administrative assistant at the Washington State Executive Ethics Board, which guards against ethical misconduct by state employees. She was living in Olympia, Washington, when she was arrested.
The Alaska State Troopers cold-case unit got a break in 2005 when they interviewed Carlin's son, who was underage in 1996 and was not 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.
He told them that he saw his father using bleach to wash out a handgun in a bathroom sink and that Linehan watched.
At the trial, which is likely to end next week, Linehan's blond hair is now glossy black, offset by porcelain skin and striking blue eyes. She has complained to photographers that her smiles look like smirks in their pictures.
"The Last Seduction" is a modern-day film noir in which a ruthless beauty — played by the sultry, raven-haired actress Linda Fiorentino — uses her sexual wiles to manipulate others.
A former stripper, Lora Aspiotis, testified that she watched the movie 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.
("Isn't it unbelievable? I'm a little shaken up by it," Fiorentino recently told the New York Post.)
Gullufsen, the prosecutor, said: "The seed is planted. There is someone she admires, wants to be like and the wheels start turning; she can apply that plan to her circumstances."
In the movie, the femme fatale gets away with murder, while her boyfriend gets convicted. Gullufsen said Linehan tried to write the same ending for herself, and he asked that the jury be allowed to watch the movie.
But Judge Philip Volland said he didn't see enough similarities between the movie and the real-life murder, noting, for example, that there was no evidence that Linehan had sex with Leppink. The judge also said the movie could be too disturbing to the jurors.
Linehan's lawyers maintain Carlin acted alone. They say he killed Leppink because he believed Leppink was stalking Linehan and because he was depressed that she loved a third man.
But another tawdry motive in the sensational trial also has been suggested: One defense attorney said the evidence will show that Leppink was bisexual or homosexual and had made advances toward Carlin's 16-year-old son.