ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CBS/AP) Lawyers for Michele Linehan, the former exotic dancer convicted of killing one of several fiancés, asked the Alaska Court of Appeals to overturn her conviction because a jury was allowed to read a victim's "letter from the grave."
Linehan, 37, was convicted in 2007 of luring a man who loved her to kill her former fiancé, Kent Leppink, in hopes of gaining $1 million in life insurance money.
Photo: Michele Linehan and murder victim Kent Leppink.
That murder happened in 1996. Soon after, Linehan left Alaska and exotic dancing. She moved to Washington state, married a doctor, Colin Linehan, and had a child. But ten years after the crime, Alaskan cold case investigators were able to recover emails from a laptop they took from Michele; emails which they said showed a conspiracy to kill Leppink.
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.
Photo: John Carlin III at his Jan. 18, 2008 sentencing for killing Kent Leppink.
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 a movie, which the prosecution said was her favorite, "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 III, the man prosecutors said Linehan lured to do her murderous bidding, was convicted separately in Leppink's death and later was killed in prison.
As for the $1 million life insurance policy, Linehan never collected it. Leppink made his parents the beneficiary only days before his murder.
A decision on Linehan's appeal is expected within a year.
48 HOURS | MYSTERY
Watch "Love and Death in Alaska" for the full Linehan story.