ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A stripper-turned-soccer mom accused of borrowing from a movie plot to kill her fiance for money was convicted Monday of first-degree murder.
Mechele Linehan, 35, had been charged with conspiring with another man she hoped to marry to kill Kent Leppink, who was shot three times in 1996 on an isolated trail 90 minutes outside Anchorage.
Linehan had no visible reaction after the verdict was read. Judge Philip Volland allowed her to hug her husband, Colin Linehan, before she was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Linehan's other former fiance, John Carlin III, was convicted of Leppink's murder in April and will be sentenced in November.
Her sensational trial was full of tawdry details about her lifestyle and accusations about how she manipulated men she met while dancing at the Great Alaskan Bush Co. strip club in Anchorage.
Prosecutors had little direct evidence but tried 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 had told the Superior Court jury. "All she needed was someone to kill him."
Kevin Fitzgerald, Linehan's attorney, said that much of the evidence presented by prosecutors was designed to do "nothing but smear Mrs. Linehan."
"Conjecture, speculation, suspicion, innuendo, even gossip. This is the package the state has presented to you," Fitzgerald had told the jury. "The package is empty.
"Prosecutors had claimed Linehan — then known as Mechele Hughes — was following the plot of the 1994 movie "The Last Seduction," in which a femme fatale coaxes her lover into killing her husband.
A former stripper, Lora Aspiotis, testified that she watched the movie with Linehan and that Linehan admired the tough-talking lead character, played by Linda Fiorentino.
"She told me that the character was her heroine and that she wanted to be just like her," Aspiotis said.
Leppink's body was found by utility workers on the ground near a lonely trail in Hope. He had been shot three times with a .44 Magnum. Prosecutors say Linehan and Carlin 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 didn't exist.
According to prosecutors, Linehan wanted the proceeds from Leppink's life insurance policy. But what she didn't know was that Leppink suspected evil afoot and made his parents the beneficiaries days before he was murdered.
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 married a doctor, got a psychology degree from St. Martin's University, 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, Wash., when she was arrested.
The Alaska state troopers' cold-case unit caught a break in 2005 when officials 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.
He told them that he saw his father using bleach to wash out a handgun in a bathroom sink and that Linehan watched.
Linehan's sentencing was set for January.