Court hears ex-stripper's appeal in 1996 killing

AP News
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Posted: Dec 04, 2009 3:47 PM

Lawyers for a former stripper convicted of a murder conspiracy asked the Alaska Court of Appeals to overturn her conviction because a jury was allowed to read a victim's "letter from the grave."

Mechele Linehan, 37, was convicted in 2007 of luring a man who loved her to kill her former fiance, Kent Leppink, in hopes of gaining $1 million in life insurance money.

The center of discussion during Thursday's hearing was a letter that Leppink wrote days before he died in 1996, predicting his death and naming Linehan as among his probable killers.

The letter said that if he should end up dead, his parents should be sure "to take Mechele DOWN. Make sure she is prosecuted."

Judge Philip Volland erred at the trial in allowing the letter to be read by jurors, said Linehan attorney Jeff Feldman. The document amounted to testimony and thus violated Linehan's constitutional right to confront her accuser, he said.

Volland told jurors they were to read the letter merely as an indication of how Leppink was feeling shortly before his death.

Despite the directions, Feldman argued, a murder victim's accusation is powerful, and it is unrealistic to believe a jury could refrain from considering that emotionally explosive material.

State attorney Diane Wendlandt argued the letter was valid evidence that showed Leppink feared Linehan. It was not used in the trial to have Leppink point the finger at Linehan, she said.

Linehan's lawyers also said her job as a stripper had no place at the trial, nor did her favorite movie, "The Last Seduction," a 1994 thriller about a woman who runs away with money her husband stole and eventually commits a murder.

Linehan is serving a 99-year sentence at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River. She was not in court for the hearing. John Carlin was convicted separately in Leppink's death and later was killed in prison.

A decision on Linehan's appeal is expected within a year.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com