Thursday, July 17, 2008

Barbara's Sentencing Letter

Dear Judge Volland:

As a citizen of Alaska, I am writing to plead for the exercise of wisdom and the fullest degree of legally allowable leniency when you carry out the heavy burden of issuing sentence on Ms. Mechele Linehan.

I am not a friend or relative of Ms. Linehan, nor do I know anyone associated with her. However, as an American citizen, I am horror-struck by the verdict rendered against Ms. Linehan. Furthermore, our prosecutor’s office bringing this case to trial without any bona fide evidence of substance is in itself frightening. It chills me to the bone to know authorities will take a citizen’s freedom, thereby destroying not only that individual’s life but also the lives of his or her extended family, based on nothing but misogynist conjecture by less-than-professional investigators, and the stubborn insistence of a prosecutor’s office using only said conjecture as evidence against the accused.

Thus, I ask that you consider the following before reaching your decision:

1) Throughout Mr. John Carlin’s trial, the Alaskan media focused a sensationalized spotlight on Mechele Linehan to such an extent that one would have thought it was she on trial rather than Mr. Carlin. In our sparsely populated state where over 50 percent of the population lives in South Central Alaska, the steady diet of scandalous Mechele Linehan stories many weeks before she stood trial, together with the subsequent incessant tabloidesque media treatment of her trial, seriously compromised Mechele Linehan’s opportunity to receive a fair jury trial in Alaska.

In particular, the Anchorage Daily News (ADN), the only large newspaper in the state, published ongoing salacious coverage of Ms. Linehan. The ADN published continual story-telling style reports chockfull full of sordid descriptions, gossip, and “factoids” that were in reality only unsubstantiated claims by the prosecution. For example, one report described the stripper coming home with her hundreds of dollars in tips carried in a purple Crown Royal bag and dumping them out on the table, insinuating triumphant glee. During my youth, I worked as a waitress, and like most people who work for tips, I dumped my tips on the dining table to count them. ADN reports continually referred to both Kent Leppink and John Carlin as Ms. Linehan’s “fiancĂ©,” yet there is no evidence supporting their claim of her engagement to multiple men at the same time. Describing Ms. Linehan’s life in Washington State, the ADN implied that working as a young stripper and living as a “cookie baking mom” are mutually exclusive roles, as well as conjuring images of opposing value-laden stereotypes: the brazenly immoral “whore” versus the sugary good “Madonna.” Reporter Megan Holland referred to Ms. Linehan’s life in Olympia as, “the image created by the wife and mother who lived there.” The terms “image” and “created” insinuate a deceptive facade. The State Troopers’ descriptions of Ms. Linehan as “greedy” and “manipulative” were printed and reprinted. Those are only a few examples of many such references.

As for the ADN editors’ decisions, one was hard-pressed to find a headline that did not refer to Ms. Linehan as an “ex-stripper,” “exotic dancer,” “femme fatal,” and/or containing language with dark or dangerous connotations, such as “evil.” Only Ms. Linehan inspired such misogynist, salacious headlines and coverage.

2) There are numerous illogical leaps of logic in the State Troopers’ theorizing, all of which lack the support of substantiated research on human behavior. In addition, there are giant holes in the prosecution’s case, with the evidence actually consisting of little more than the puritanically fantastical conjectures of the investigators.

A) Forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Mills, testified that Ms. Linehan’s personality makes her an unlikely co-conspirator in murder. Yet the jury chose to accept the speculative story of a Lolita with so much sexual power over men that she could convince two almost middle-aged men to do her bidding no matter how “evil.”

B) At the time of the murder, Mechele Linehan was only 23-years-old. Kent Leppink was 36-years-old and John Carlin was 39-years-old. What psychology and human development training did our State Troopers obtain that supported their hypothesis that a 23-year-old was as responsible, if not more so, than the men old enough to have been able to father her? What training did they receive that provided the foundation for hypothesizing that a 23-year-old was capable of such power and fully responsible for it, while the older men over whom she ruled were helpless?

C) John Carlin’s son testified that he saw his father and Ms. Linehan washing a gun. Were they both washing the gun? Were they holding it, jointly, four hands on the gun washing it; or was one washing it while the other watched and they were talking? What were they saying to each other? Being in the room with someone, watching them and talking to them, is not the same thing as actively participating. Yet, the testimony was presented as though it is the same thing. Housemates discussing what happened to a third housemate, even as one, guilty or innocent, freaks out and cleans his gun out of fear, are entirely within the realm of expected and reasonable behaviors for most people. Fearing a housemate may have committed murder or not knowing who did it and so feeling frightened, would both be logical reasons to pack one’s bags and move out of state. That scenario is much more reasonable and common than the one presented by the State Troopers and the prosecution, especially without any substantive evidence to the contrary. Additionally, memory researchers have proven that the most unreliable evidence in criminal trials is eyewitness testimony.

D) The prosecution claimed that Ms. Linehan receiving expensive gifts from Mr. Leppink was evidence of a serious romantic relationship between the two of them. To the contrary, unless there is actual evidence of such a relationship, it was only evidence that Leppink was a troubled man. Many a young woman has enjoyed what she thought was a nice friendship with someone who had her best interest at heart, only to discover too late that there are strings attached; the man wants much more and will not accept no for an answer.

On her own and traveling far from home at a young age, Ms. Linehan worked to save money for college. Nothing about her story is unusual or especially predatory for a young woman in her position. Young women—especially the most attractive—on their own without the protection of nearby family are always targets for predatory men, including needy, mentally unstable men. Older emotionally troubled men, in particular, make a practice of showering gifts on young women they desire. Unlike older men who do the same but stop when they do not get the hoped for response, emotionally troubled men tend not to stop regardless of the response they receive. A young woman does not have to ask for gifts, and in fact, once the realization comes that something is not quite right about the man and the situation, they usually prefer that the gift giving stop because it is uncomfortable. Nevertheless, a young woman’s lack of enthusiasm rarely discourages such a man because he is a lonely obsessive who is convinced that if he showers her with gifts to prove his devotion, she will grow to love him.

In the case of troubled, lonely, obsessive men, fantasizing a nonexistent intimate relationship is also common. Such mentally ill men can believe a young woman already loves him but she is keeping him at a distance either only because she is upset with him or because she is cheating on him. That last scenario makes him dangerous. Such experiences teach young women to be more careful and to recognize that too much out of proportion generosity is a warning flag. That knowledge, however, is not something we are born knowing. We learn it through experience.

E) The prosecution claimed there was something predatory about Ms. Linehan living in a group home with multiple male housemates; that her living situation meant she was romantically involved with said men. Yet, millions of young women, (including me, and later my daughter), have or do live in group homes with men, sometimes as the only women, with no romantic or sexual relationships. Many people under the age of 60 have lived in such homes because when social mores changed, multi-gender group homes became entirely common as a way to save money.

Furthermore, the prosecution (and therefore, the ADN) claimed Ms. Linehan was engaged to both men. Yet Ms. Linehan was openly involved with Scott Hilke, who actually visited her in that same group home before the events that led to Mr. Leppink’s death. That she was seriously engaged to Mr. Leppink at the same time she had Mr. Hilke visit her in their home is illogical. Further, the prosecution claimed she was also engaged to Mr. Carlin, yet Mr. Carlin admitted to sending Mr. Leppink on a goose chase to prevent him from following Ms. Linehan to California, where she was meeting Mr. Hilke. It makes no sense that as her fiancĂ©, Mr. Carlin would help her visit another lover.

F) The prosecution claimed Ms. Linehan used Kent Leppink and John Carlin for their money—that she was a gold-digger. Yet, Ms. Linehan saved her dancing tips until she had enough to pay for her college tuition; she then quit dancing and attended school. If she was using these men, and they would do absolutely anything she asked of them, why were they not paying her tuition? Why did she not quit dancing sooner and attend school on their dime?

G) The prosecution claimed that Mr. Carlin and Ms. Linehan conspired to kill Mr. Leppink in order to receive a $1,000,000 insurance policy. However, at the time Mr. Carlin was a millionaire, hence he did not need the insurance policy, and if the prosecution is correct about Ms. Linehan’s magical powers of seduction, then she did not need an insurance policy to get her hands on Mr. Carlin’s money. In addition, the insurance company’s agent testified that Ms. Linehan tried to cancel the policy before Mr. Leppink’s death. That is evidence in her favor, while the prosecution has no evidence to support their claim that she did so merely as a ruse to cover her tracks.

H) The prosecution painted Kent Leppink as a tragic victim at the hands of a heartless seductress. His family, especially his mother, weighed in on how Ms. Linehan destroyed them, their son, and how evil she is. However, the truth was that Kent Leppink was in Alaska after banishment from his own family because he embezzled from their family business. What more might a person who will embezzle from his or her own family do? Furthermore, how much stock can one put in the testimony of people who purposely banished their son and brother because they believed him to be a thief, a liar, and a con, but then after he dies leaving those same relatives $1,000,000, they paint themselves as horribly wronged and their relationship to the deceased as so significant? How are they more believable than is Mechele Linehan?

I) Mechele Linehan’s sister claims Ms. Linehan asked her to destroy the emails on her computer. By itself, without any other solid evidence to lend credence to the prosecution’s claims, that means nothing. In order to protect our privacy, millions of people wisely destroy emails and records on our computers before moving them, turning them over to other people, or giving them away. Also, anyone with any sense who intended to escape an ugly situation of which we were afraid, were too young too handle, or that could be misconstrued to damage us, would try to erase any trace of a connection between us and what we feared, and we would do so quite innocently. Most especially, a young person would impulsively do so.

J) Regarding the emails presented as evidence: Unless the jury read the entire correspondences, they read or heard them out of context. Any correspondence taken out of context can easily mislead.

K) The reported comments made by Mechele Linehan as to it being too bad Mr. Leppink was not tortured first, as he tortured animals he hunted, while (if she did actually say it) was a harsh and thoughtless thing to say, it does not mean she conspired to have him killed. Rather, it is typical of the sort of judgmental statement a young person hounded by the victim and who disapproved of his hunting activity would say. I know from my formal studies in human development that twenty-three-year-olds do not yet have the experience and understanding of their own mortality to grasp the depth and thoughtlessness of such a judgmental statement.

L) Although there is no concrete evidence supporting the prosecution’s contention that Ms. Linehan deceived Mr. Leppink for money, investigators did find physical evidence of Mr. Leppink’s stalking her and stealing items belonging to both Ms. Linehan and Mr. Hilke.

When one understands the psychology of human behavior, the pieces of the puzzle as presented by the prosecution do not fit their conclusion. It is erroneous to apply developmentally appropriate logic to a disturbed man, but not to the young woman with whom he is obsessed. First, it is no accident that these sorts of unhealthy relationships exist between older men and young women alone on their own. Young women with families and protectors are not vulnerable to offers to be taken care of. Second, in exchange for her mere presence, it is common for a disturbed man to promise a young woman the moon without the demands of a sexual relationship. That is even more likely if he suffers from any sexual confusion.

It is also likely that as his deeper mental problems gradually emerged, a developmentally normal young woman would consider such a man comical, then pathetic, and as his odd behavior worsened into bizarre, grow weary and even frightened of his invasive stalking. Finally, such a man committing suicide in some way fits a psychological profile. If in his delusional state, he believed he was losing his imagined deep love relationship and/or the young woman might expose a dark secret of his, his actions would be bizarre, not hers. Therefore, none of that is evidence against Ms. Linehan. Instead, such delusional self-destructive behaviors common in these sorts of complicated relationships support Ms. Linehan’s defense.

3) Juror, Christine Eagleson, speaking of Ms. Linehan’s history as a dancer, stated to the press, “that all goes into the factor of manipulation and seduction," "That was a whole key point that we discussed on and on and on.” A second reason jurors said they voted to convict was that some of them did not like the dirty looks she gave another ex-dancer testifying against her. Finally, the jury accepted the prosecution’s interpretation of out of context emails while ignoring the more concrete evidence in Ms. Linehan’s favor. Those are not “beyond a reasonable doubt” reasons to convict someone!

Judge Volland, like Ms. Linehan, I was on my own at a young age, making my way in life and improving my circumstances. Further, like Ms. Linehan and all young women in that position, I met and even sometimes developed friendships with people (usually older) who proved to be unethical, unstable, or even dangerous. When I felt frightened by what I discovered or what they were trying to lure or pressure me into, I would up and quietly take off so that I was no longer associated with them. Given I grew up to be a relatively boring, middle-class mother and wife never in trouble with the law, it appears I was more fortunate than Mechele Linehan. However, I credit only luck and fear for my more fortunate outcome, because as a young woman on my own in the world, I crossed paths with numerous predatory and even mentally unhinged people, almost all of whom were older men.

In addition, I lived in Alaska when I was young, celebrating my 20th birthday in Kodiak, Alaska. Although, due to shyness, I never took a job as a dancer, I remember Alaska businesses promising big money while requiring no previous experience (which intentionally targets the young), advertising for dancers in newspapers and magazines all over the country. Hence, Alaskans actively sought young women to move here and work as exotic dancers, but a jury of Alaskans (ten of the twelve, women) held it against Ms. Linehan. The jury viewed 35-year-old Mechele Linehan as immoral to the point of conspiring to commit murder because at the age of 21, she took Alaskans up on their job offer as a means to save money for college.

Moreover, while living in Alaska, I did not meet one other young woman who did not quickly either have a “boyfriend” she lived with (and that included me), or lived in a group home that had male friends in it. All the young women I knew did so for protection. There were (and there are still) varieties of odd characters living in Alaska both permanently and temporarily. Hunted and hounded by all kinds of men, pretty girls in Alaska were much too vulnerable to live alone for long. That did not mean we were predatory; the men with whom we lived understood the situation because most of us were temporary residents—our situation in Alaska was merely an adventure. That was an integral part of the culture in Alaska then, especially in the winter when there were fewer young women here. Thus, Mechele Linehan’s lifestyle in Anchorage did not, and does not, warrant unbridled suspicion.

Regardless of what really did happen between these individuals, and in light of the unspeakable grief Mechele Linehan’s husband and child are experiencing, to convict a person on so little and for a crime they supposedly committed in their youth is a travesty. To impose a life sentence on the premise that, without committing the murder himself or herself, a person barely out of adolescence convinced another and much older person to do so is horrifying. The thought that our court system would impose a life sentence on a person for a crime that without more actual evidence looks like nothing but the hostile imaginations of the investigators, is terrifying. To do so would not serve justice as our Founders intended it in this nation.

Therefore, as a citizen of this state and our country, I ask that for our justice system and for the protection of our citizens, you grant the defense’s request and allow for the most lenient sentencing arrangement available to you.

Thank you for reading this letter and for your consideration of this matter.


Barbara Sheridan


Mechele's Friends said...

Thank you so much for writing, sending, and sharing this letter, Barbara!

Alyssa said...

I am in tears at your eloquence in stating what we have all felt all along. As a friend it's difficult to express both my personal rage at Mechele's treatment along with my horror at the great injustice she has endured at the hands of the legal system. It gives me no comfort to think about the complete lack of legality in regards to evidence, and the rejection of basic constitutional rights. It makes no sense, and each day without her here is a ridiculous tragedy.