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"PRETTY POISON"

ANCHORAGE - A steelworker and a woman who worked as a stripper in two states have been charged with killing a man outside a rural Alaska community more than 10 years ago.

John T. Carlin III, 49, Department of Transportation worker from Elmer, N.J., flew to Alaska after learning of the warrant for his arrest and turned himself in at the Anchorage courthouse.

He is charged with first-degree murder along with Mechele Hughes, 33, also known as Mechele or Michele Linehan, of Olympia, Wash. Hughes was arrested without incident Wednesday in Olympia was being held on a $500,000 warrant, Alaska State Troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson said. Linehan was now a respected wife and mother in her community, no one knew about her racy past.

Prosecutors charge they (Carlin & Linehan) conspired to kill Kent Leppink, 36, who was found dead in the woods off the Hope Highway in May 1996. He was shot three times with a .44-caliber Magnum.

New witness statements and changes in computer forensic technology allowed investigators to break the cold case, prosecutors said.

Hughes was a longtime exotic dancer in New Jersey and at the Great Alaskan Bush Co. in Anchorage.

Prosecutors said she met Leppink, a Shelby, Mich., man who came to Alaska to try commercial fishing, shortly after he moved to Anchorage. The couple were engaged within a month.

Carlin was a friend of both who had recently won a $1.2 million judgment in a lead-poisoning lawsuit. Hughes and Leppink occasionally lived with him in or around Anchorage.

Leppink did not know that Carlin also was engaged to Hughes, prosecutors said.

Hughes purchased a $1 million life insurance policy on Leppink a month before his death. She also persuaded him to put his real estate and his commercial fishing boat in both their names, and to write a will naming her as the beneficiary, prosecutors said.

Leppink, however, became suspicious of the circumstances. He tore up his will and changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy to his father - something Hughes may not have known when Leppink was shot, prosecutors said.

Days before Leppink was killed, he sent a package to his father with two letters. One contained instructions and one was sealed. The instructions told his father to put the sealed envelope in his safety deposit box.

"I talked to you about 'insurance policies.' This is mine. ... It's not funny to talk about getting killed, but in today's world you have to expect anything. ... If you think anything fishy has happened to me, then you can open up the other envelope I've sent."'

According to the court documents, the sealed letter said, "Use the information enclosed to take Michele (Hughes) DOWN. Make sure she is prosecuted." It also named three possible suspects in his murder: Hughes, Carlin and a third man who was not charged but was also engaged to Hughes.

A month after Leppink's death, Hughes and Carlin bought a recreational vehicle together and moved to Louisiana, prosecutors said.

A breakthrough in the case came when Carlin's son told investigators he believed his father killed Leppink. When Leppink was killed, Carlin prevented investigators from talking to his son, who was a minor.

In 2004, when the son was 26, he told investigators that shortly after Leppink went missing, he saw his father washing a handgun in the bathroom sink and that his father told him bleach was good for removing evidence from guns.

Investigators also used new computer technology to retrieve old e-mails off Leppink's laptop, which had messages between the couple that contradicted Hughes' previous statements.

Hughes and Carlin were indicted Thursday in Anchorage.

Carlin is at the Anchorage Jail with bail set at $500,000.

Leppink's mother, Betsy Leppink, on Tuesday read a prepared statement from her home in Michigan.

"After 10.5 years, we are very happy to have this take place and are eager for the process to continue," she said.