Friends and family of Mechele Linehan have launched a Web site where supporters who believe she was wrongfully convicted of murder by an Anchorage jury last year can buy "Free Mechele" merchandise. It also promises visitors Linehan herself will send dispatches from prison.

Backers say they want people to meet the Linehan her friends and family know, not the diabolical temptress portrayed by the people who think she's a murderer.

The hope is to build public support for her pending appeal and a re-trial.

Linehan, 35, was convicted last October in the 1996 murder of Kent Leppink. The prosecutor said Linehan, who had been working as a stripper in Anchorage, conspired with one lover to kill another for a $1 million life insurance policy payout, which she didn't collect.

Linehan says she was a friend of Leppink's and doesn't know who killed the 36-year-old commercial fisherman. He was shot three times near Hope.

Friends and family are unshakable in their support for her and determined to save her from her 99-year sentence, using tools like a public relations campaign and a team of high-powered lawyers.

The portrayal of Linehan as some kind of "Spider Queen" or black widow is wrong, according to her husband, Colin Linehan.

"This Hollywood narrative was interpreted by the media through the lens of the prosecution and was essential to any conclusion of guilt based on the selective circumstance presented by the state," he said in an e-mail.

One reason for the wide misunderstanding of who Mechele really is comes from the fact that she didn't testify at her trial or, on the advice of her lawyers, talk to the media after her arrest. One reason for her silence was an assumption among her friends and family that should would be acquitted. The jury verdict was a shock from which they're just recovering.

"We've had a tremendous outpouring of love and support throughout this nightmare ordeal," said Linehan's mother, Sandy McWilliams, in a phone interview from her home in Louisiana.

She rejects the image of her daughter as someone who uses people. "To the people that know her, to her friends and family, they know better. But it helps to educate the public a little bit. You know, if she was such a bad person why does she have all this love and support?"

Even the reported "good side" of Linehan is cliched, said Terri Plewa, a friend and former neighbor in Olympia, Wash., where Linehan was living when arrested. Plewa built the Web site,

Linehan's suburban life between Leppink's death and her arrest is often portrayed as "the cookie-baking, PTA mom," Plewa said.

Linehan is in fact an intelligent, educated woman involved in the community.

Linehan is serving her sentence at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River. She does not have access to the Internet, but Plewa said she will post letters from Linehan on the site.

A nearly all-female jury concluded that co-conspirator John Carlin shot Leppink but Linehan made him do it. The case was circumstantial. Without a murder weapon, DNA evidence or an eyewitness, jurors relied on suggestive e-mails, phone calls back and forth about the life insurance policy, and a letter Leppink wrote to his parents days before the murder, foreshadowing his death and fingering Linehan.

On the Free Mechele Web site, blog and message board, still in its infancy, supporters can buy merchandise including T-shirts, mugs and dog sweaters. The items say "Free Me," referring to the diminutive of her name she has used since childhood (Mechele is pronounced "meeshell"). The proceeds go to her legal fund.

The site includes Linehan's address in prison. Supporters can have books sent to her from She's asking for a range of authors from Leo Tolstoy to Dave Eggers.

Linehan left Alaska shortly after the murder, married, had a child and earned a master's degree in public administration. She is often referred to as "the stripper murderer," which her friends and family really hate.

She was a stripper for less than two years a long time ago, one of many jobs she held while going to school, said McWilliams. No one ever calls her "the waitress murderer" or "the deli counter murderer." The media likes "stripper" because it's salacious, her friends say.

Linehan was opening a medical day spa in Olympia with her husband, who is a doctor, when she was arrested. She spends her days now sewing prison uniforms.

"She's not bitter," McWilliams said. "She just wants to come home."