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Jailed writer says loss of freedom more real to her since Sept. 11 attacks

By The Associated Press


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HOUSTON — A novice crime writer jailed for refusing to surrender her interviews for a book about a Houston society murder said yesterday that her loss of freedom had become more real to her in the wake of the terrorist attacks and this week's military response to them.

Vanessa Leggett, 33, said she had felt "even more powerless and helpless" since reading about the attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, but said her sentiments hadn't changed her resolve "one iota."

"It is just something that I have been resolved to endure each day for as long as it takes," Leggett said yesterday, her 82nd day of incarceration at the Houston Federal Detention Center.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Leggett, who has claimed First Amendment protections for refusing to turn over her notes to a federal grand jury, said she had struggled with how U.S. laws could allow "an American citizen trying to disseminate a story to the public (to be held) for up to 18 months."

Leggett, wearing an olive-colored prison uniform and seated at a table in the visiting area at the prison, said society must be careful in the measures it takes to prevent future terrorism in an effort not to "sacrifice the things that define what it means to be an American."

Without freedom, her life seems "indefinite" and "taxing," she said.

"I'm being treated like a criminal although I've never been charged with any crime," she said.

Leggett's attorney, Mike DeGeurin, has filed a petition with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans asking that the full court rehear oral arguments in her case and release her.

In August, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit refused to release her, saying it took a "narrow view of the journalist's privilege in criminal cases, particularly in grand jury proceedings."

Federal prosecutors have said Leggett is not a journalist and can't claim First Amendment press protections. Leggett has not published a book or news articles.

The Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society of Professional Journalists and an international journalism association are among a number of journalism organizations that support Leggett. The Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press says Leggett has been jailed longer than any other journalist in the United States, exceeding the 46 days a Los Angeles Herald-Examiner reporter was held for refusing to disclose source material related to the Charles Manson trial in 1972.

"We're worried that a country that has always been a good example is now setting a bad example," said Danilo Arbilla, president of the Inter American Press Association. Arbilla visited Leggett last week on behalf of his association, which has 1,400 member newspapers from North and South America.

Leggett's research centers on the death of Doris Angleton, who was found fatally shot in her Houston home April 16, 1997.

Angleton's husband, Robert, and his brother, Roger, were charged with capital murder. Prosecutors alleged Robert Angleton, a millionaire former bookie, hired his brother to kill his wife to prevent her from getting millions in a divorce settlement.

Roger Angleton spoke with Leggett before committing suicide in jail. Federal authorities started investigating Robert Angleton after he was acquitted of his wife's murder in 1998. Leggett gave state prosecutors tapes of her interviews with Roger Angleton.

The tapes have since been turned over to federal prosecutors, who now want every interview conducted during the course of her research, says Leggett, who says her convictions remain deeply rooted.

"Before I was taken into custody, I had prepared myself and my family for 18 months or less," Leggett said yesterday. "Less could be 24 hours. Less could mean 17 months and 28 days. We prepared for this."


Texas writer spends 100 days — and counting — in jail
Vanessa Leggett says she misses simple things in life, fears government might pursue criminal contempt charges.  10.31.01


Federal appeals panel refuses to free jailed writer
‘This court takes a narrow view of the journalist's privilege in criminal cases, particularly in grand jury proceedings,’ says opinion.  08.20.01


Jailing of writer taints U.S. reputation, says international press advocate
Vanessa Leggett, jailed for refusing to surrender her notes about a Houston society murder, has spent more time behind bars than any other journalist in the United States.  10.04.01

The making of a First Amendment martyr
Ombudsman Journalist Vanessa Leggett sits in jail because she won’t become an investigative pawn of government.  08.22.01