Mechele Linehan Wins Murder Appeal, "Letter from Grave" Haunts Prosecutors

(AP Photo/Al Grillo)
(AP Photo/Al Grillo)
(AP Photo/Al Grillo)
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CBS/AP) Mechele Linehan, the former exotic dancer convicted for killing a romantic interest for a million dollar life insurance policy, will get another chance at freedom. The Alaska Court of Appeals overturned her conviction Friday, leaving the door open for a new trial.

Photo: Michele Linehan in court in 2007 with her attorney.

Linehan's murder trial made national headlines in 2007, in part because prosecutors alleged that Linehan had convinced three men that she was engaged to them at the same time and two of them lived in the same house with her.

One of those men, Kent Leppink, was shot to death 90 miles south of Anchorage, and the other, John Carlin III, was convicted for his murder.

Photo: Kent Leppink and Mechele Linehan.

But prosecutors also convinced an Alaskan jury that Linehan was the mastermind who lured Leppink to his death and pushed Carlin III to do the shooting.

The story was made all the more shocking because it took more than 10 years for investigators to bring anyone to trial at all. Leppink, a fisherman, was killed in 1996. By the time cold case investigators hauled Linehan back to Anchorage, she had left Alaska and exotic dancing behind, married a doctor in Washington State, and had become a PTA mom.

Photo: Mechele Linehan is taken into custody after being found guilty in 2007.

In the appellate court's Friday ruling, the judges said that two key pieces of evidence used in the trial should never have been allowed by the judge.

Love and Death in Alaska - A Crime Of Money, Power, Greed And Sex

The first was a letter, apparently written by Leppink to his parents, that said in the event of his untimely death "Mechele, John or Scott were probably the people or persons that probably killed me. Do me another favor, make sure Mechele goes to jail for a long time."

Normally, a "letter from the grave" would be considered inadmissible hearsay because Linehan's attorneys would not be able to cross examine the person who wrote it. But prosecutor Pat Gullufsen convinced the judge to allow it to show Leppink's state of mind before he died. The appeals court said that was a mistake.

The second piece of evidence that the court ruled inappropriate was the testimony of Lora Aspiotis, a former stripper who worked with Linehan at the time of the murder. She testified that Linehan's favorite movie was "The Last Seduction" where a woman convinces another man to kill her husband for $1 million and gets away with it. Aspiotis testified that Linehan said the female protagonist was her hero and she wanted to be just like her.

The jury never saw the film, but the appeals court felt that discussing it hurt her case unfairly.

Linehan will remain in custody until at least a bail hearing, said Jeff Feldman, one of Linehan's attorneys. And the state will have to decide whether to try her again or petition the Alaska Supreme Court to review the appellate court's decision.

John Carlin III was murdered in an Alaskan jail in 2008. He always denied any involvement in Leppink's murder.

Love and Death in Alaska - A Crime Of Money, Power, Greed And Sex