She pleaded for leniency, telling the judge she is not the monster the prosecution says she is.
"I have not lived a life of greed, manipulation, or that of a fictional character of a Hollywood movie," said the 35-year-old convicted of murdering for money. She described herself as a happy wife and mother to a young daughter, someone who enjoys renovating her Olympia home and having homemade pizza parties.
"I beg you, from the bottom of my heart, to allow me the chance to go back to my family," she said.
But Superior Court Judge Philip Volland was not convinced. He sided with the prosecution and handed down the maximum sentence, saying Linehan's young daughter won't likely be seeing her mother outside of a prison until she is well into her own adulthood. Linehan will be first eligible for parole in 33 years.
Volland called the 1996 murder of fisherman Kent Leppink a "heinous crime." He said Linehan, who was convicted in October of orchestrating the murder, was a cold-hearted killer.
The homicide was an unsolved case that languished with Alaska state troopers for 10 years before Linehan and a former boyfriend, John Carlin III, were arrested in 2006. Prosecutor Pat Gullufsen said Linehan conspired with Carlin to dupe Leppink into believing she loved him, got him to make her the beneficiary of a life insurance policy and then had Carlin kill him.
Both Linehan and Carlin say they are innocent. Carlin was sentenced in January to 99 years for firing the handgun that killed Leppink.
"In my mind I can find no principled distinction between the puppet who pulls the trigger and the puppeteer who pulls the strings," Volland said of Linehan's role. "And in my judgment, Ms. Linehan was the puppeteer who pulled the strings."
The victim's mother, Betsy Leppink, said outside the courtroom after the sentencing, "I feel that God has a way of answering crimes."
She held hands with her husband and said, though, that the sentence does not bring the closure the family needs. "Only if we could walk home with our son could it be over."
The two Mecheles
The sentencing came after more than a day and a half of testimony and arguments by the defense and prosecution. A nationally renowned forensic psychiatrist testified that Linehan likely did not commit the crime, given that she exhibited no signs of maniacal personality disorders or of someone who had recovered from the trauma of a murder.
Other family and friends testified or wrote letters on her behalf, describing her as a caring community volunteer who is known for taking in stray animals and helping the homeless and elderly.
They said there was no need to rehabilitate Linehan in prison she already has a magnanimous young heart, her mother-in-law, Judy Linehan, said in court.
Volland concluded, though, that there are two Linehans wrapped into one. One Linehan people are clearly charmed by, while the other is manipulative and seductive, he said.
After the proceeding, Colin Linehan, Mechele's husband who has been tirelessly supportive since she was arrested, agreed that there are two Mechele Linehans. "There's the Mechele that everyone who knows her and has been around her for years knows. And the Mechele that the prosecution invented, their narrative."
When Volland stated his reasons for his decision, Colin Linehan, sitting directly behind his wife, often shook his head or quietly laughed at what the judge was saying. Outside the courtroom, he said he and his wife will "appeal vigorously the decisions by Judge Volland during the trial."
In her five-minute statement to the judge, Mechele Linehan said that when she worked as a dancer at the Great Alaskan Bush Co. she made "poor choices." She admitted that she accepted gifts and money from men, including Leppink, whom she met at the bar.
In previous interviews, Linehan has said that Leppink was a customer of hers at the Bush Company whom she befriended. He became obsessed with her, though, and fabricated a relationship in his head. He lied to his friends and family about them, she says. She says it was his idea to take out the life insurance but both of them tried to cancel it days before his death.
She says she doesn't know who killed Leppink.
At the time of his death, Leppink was financially broke, obsessed with Linehan and had lost a considerable amount of weight, his family has said. In the end, Leppink changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy to his family. They got the money.
Carlin said at his sentencing in January that he wondered if Leppink orchestrated his own murder in a way to falsely implicate the people around him whom he wanted to punish. Carlin questioned whether it was a last act of revenge against the woman who rejected him and against Carlin, who protected Linehan from Leppink by lying about her whereabouts.
In the decade after Leppink's death, Linehan went on to marry a physician, have a daughter, earn a master's degree in public administration and open a cosmetic laser treatment center in Olympia. Linehan will first be eligible for parole when she is 68 years old.