Linehan accused of seeking to wipe laptop after death of fiance

ANCHORAGE - The older sister of a former stripper accused of conspiring with one fiance to kill another 10 years ago testified before a jury Friday that her sister told her the dead man got what he deserved.

Melissa Hughes also testified in the murder trial of John Carlin III that her sister, Mechele Linehan, asked her immediately after the slaying to erase all the information on a laptop computer. Hughes, who knew about the slaying, refused.

E-mails eventually retrieved from that laptop are now key pieces of evidence for the prosecution, detailing the bizarre love tangles Linehan had going just before the murder of fiance Kent Leppink in May 1996.

Linehan and Carlin are accused of conspiring to murder Leppink to get the proceeds from a $1 million life insurance policy, which Linehan erroneously believed would be coming to her. Alaska State Troopers took a decade to bring charges against the couple.

Hughes took the stand in Carlin's trial in the Anchorage Superior Court room, clearly nervous in front of the national media the case has drawn. After leaving the stand, she burst into tears outside the courtroom.

During her brief testimony, she spoke in a soft voice and told the jury her sister visited her in Utah a month after Leppink had been shot to death. Her sister and Carlin's son, John Carlin IV, were driving in a motor home from Alaska to Louisiana after an abrupt decision to move, prosecutors have said.

In a confrontation about the computer, which had belonged to Leppink, Linehan showed no sorrow for the death of her friend, her sister testified: "She said it was too bad someone didn't torture him first."

"She told me that he got what he deserved. People didn't like him and he hunted and stuffed animals."

Linehan was likely referring to Leppink's former job as a taxidermist, according to what other witnesses have said in the trial. Witnesses have also said Linehan had a soft spot for animals; she was planning an exotic bird sanctuary in Costa Rica.

Linehan's angry outburst about Leppink, who became a fisherman when he moved to Alaska in the early 1990s, came when her sister told her she had not erased all the information on the laptop. Linehan had shipped her tech-savvy sister the computer, saying she had bought the computer from Leppink before his death and wanted it cleaned up for her personal use. Hughes knew quite a bit about computers at the time, she said.

Prosecutors say Linehan had already tried to delete files on the computer before she sent it to Hughes.

Family strain

The two sisters didn't speak for years after the encounter.

Alaska state troopers tried to find the laptop shortly after Leppink's death, but Linehan told them she had sent it to her sister for repair. Records show, though, that Linehan actually sent it after investigators inquired about it, according to testimony heard this week from former trooper Steven DeHart.

Authorities seized the laptop several months later from Linehan in Louisiana.

The laptop was examined in the investigation immediately after the homicide, then re-­examined in 2004 with new technology. In the second examination, investigators were able to extract e-mails that they believe show Linehan was manipulating Leppink and setting him up for murder, prosecutors have said.

E-mails are playing an important role in the trial, with prosecutors saying they reveal the thoughts of the defendants and victim.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Philip Volland ruled after several days of consideration that he would allow a particular e-mail from Linehan to John Carlin III to be shown to the jury. The e-mail, sent days before Leppink was shot to death, refers to Carlin and Linehan moving to the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean where they could avoid extradition.

The trial is scheduled to continue next week, with the prosecution expected to wrap up its case within several days.

Linehan's trial is scheduled for September.