Witness jeopardizes ex-stripper murder case

BOYFRIEND SLAIN: Sister of defendant refuses; son of another fiance hard to locate.

The opening next week of the highly anticipated murder trial of former Anchorage stripper Mechele Linehan was in jeopardy Wednesday because a key witness was refusing to testify, according to the prosecutor in the case.

And another central witness -- the son of the man who has been convicted in the slaying Linehan allegedly had a hand in -- surfaced late Wednesday night, after he was thought to have vanished.

The uncertainty of the witnesses' availability had stirred the prosecution to file paperwork earlier with the court asking for a delay in the trial that was set to begin Monday. Prosecutors could not be reached Wednesday night to determine if the re-emergence of John Carlin IV would change their minds.

Harried phone calls were passing between lawyers late into the night. A pre-trial court hearing scheduled for this afternoon is expected to resolve some of the questions.

Linehan's sister, Melissa Hughes, told prosecutors last week she would not take the stand against her sibling, said prosecutor Pat Gullufsen.

Linehan, a former Bush Company stripper who is married to a doctor in Washington, is accused of conspiring to murder a former fiance, Kent Leppink, in 1996. Another fiance at the time, John Carlin III, was convicted in April of carrying out what prosecutors said was a well-thought-out plan by the pair to kill the man for a $1 million life insurance policy, which Linehan erroneously believed would be coming to her. They were arrested in October 2006.

Early in the day Wednesday, Gullufsen said Carlin IV, now in his late 20s, could not be found and seemingly did not want to testify. Carlin IV's lawyer, Darryl Thompson, late Wednesday, however, said he had contacted his client and that he would be testifying.

Asked whether his client had always intended to testify, Thompson said, "I think emotionally, he's kind of drained of this whole situation. So, is it his desire, does he want to do this? "No. But he knows he has an obligation and he doesn't want to see the state go through a bunch of rigmarole, and hassles, and warrants. ... He doesn't want to do that. He will come and if asked questions, he will answer."

He also said, "You know, it's a pretty difficult case. I think it's been difficult for him since he knows that his testimony played a role, in part, in his father going to jail."

Though Carlin's surfacing could solve one witness problem, the matter of Linehan's sister refusing to testify could still hinder the prosecution's case.

"Melissa is a very powerful circumstantial witness as to the state of mind of Ms. Linehan around the time that Mr. Leppink was killed," said Sidney Billingslea, an attorney who defended Carlin.

Prosecutors had planned to present the same witnesses and testimony at Linehan's trial as they did at Carlin's.

Linehan's older sister told prosecutors last week she won't testify against her sister. She told Gullufsen it would be extremely difficult to testify and maintain a relationship with the rest of her family.

Hughes is a key witness in the state's case. Just after the murder of Leppink, the younger sister told her older sibling that he got what he deserved, Hughes testified at Carlin's trial. "She said it was too bad someone didn't torture him first," she testified.

She also told the jury that her sister asked her, much more tech savvy than Linehan, to erase the hard drive on a computer. She didn't. The computer was later found to have what prosecutors claim were incriminating e-mails providing circumstantial evidence of the murder plot. During Carlin's trial, the defendant's lawyers disputed that, saying the e-mails needed to be read in context.

Carlin IV's testimony is expected to also be key. Jurors after the conviction of his father said it was Carlin IV's testimony that persuaded them to find his father guilty.

On the witness stand, Carlin IV said that he saw his father and Linehan cleaning a gun in a bathroom sink after the murder.