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Texas writer set free

By The Associated Press

01.04.02

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Writer Vanessa Leggett, center, speaks to reporters after being released today from the Federal Detention Center in Houston where she spent more than five months for refusing to give federal prosecutors her research about a murder case. Leggett is joined by her lawyer, Mike DeGeurin, left; her husband, Doak Leggett, back; and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, right.

HOUSTON — A novice crime writer jailed for more than five months for refusing to give federal prosecutors her research about a murder case left her cell behind today.

"I'm just very grateful to be free," a tearful Vanessa Leggett said as she emerged from a federal detention center. "Downtown Houston never looked so good. I feel good — I was able to maintain my journalistic integrity so far."

Leggett was released because the federal grand jury that demanded she turn over her research on a society murder was to end its investigation today, said her attorney, Mike DeGeurin.

Leggett, 33, was jailed on contempt charges on July 20 after refusing to hand over notes related to the 1997 shooting death of Doris Angleton.

Joined by DeGeurin, her husband, Doak, and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Leggett said she planned to continue working on her book and to incorporate her jail experience into it.

In November, Jackson Lee wrote Attorney General John Ashcroft, urging him to release Leggett.

Leggett's husband, who spent yesterday cleaning house in anticipation of her homecoming, said he was "very relieved she's coming home."

Kesha Handy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, said she could not comment on whether the government planned to convene another grand jury in the case or again ask Leggett for her notes.

DeGeurin said he would continue Leggett's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of protecting her from being jailed again.

"The government could always bring another subpoena to a new grand jury and start the process again," he said. "She's well aware the effort is not over."

Doris Angleton's husband, Robert, was acquitted in 1998 of state charges of hiring his brother Roger to kill his wife. Roger Angleton killed himself in jail 10 months after the slaying, leaving behind a note exonerating his brother.

Leggett, a part-time college instructor, interviewed many people involved in the investigation for her book.

Leggett refused to be an informant in the case for the government and declined to answer questions about confidential sources before the grand jury.

Federal prosecutors contend Leggett is not a journalist and does not fall under the First Amendment's protection of the press.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her incarceration, noting that neither she nor any other journalist has a qualified privilege protecting confidential sources. The high court received the appeal this week and will announce later if it will review the case.

Leggett's incarceration exceeded the previous longest U.S. jail stint for a journalist. A Los Angeles Herald-Examiner reporter, William Farr, spent 46 days behind bars for refusing to disclose source material related to the Charles Manson trial in 1972, according to the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Previous

Jailed Texas writer asks Supreme Court to hear case
Vanessa Leggett wants justices to use her case to give writers, reporters more rights to protect confidentiality of sources.  01.03.02

Related

Congresswoman urges Ashcroft to free jailed writer
Houston Democrat says Vanessa Leggett's 'only "crime" was to protect her confidential sources in keeping with the traditional constitutional notions of a free press.'  11.26.01

Jailed writer wins PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award
Novice crime writer Vanessa Leggett to receive literary fellowship's award, accompanying $25,000 prize.  04.12.02

Virginia judge threatens jail for reporter who refuses to name source
Magistrate Judge Pamela Sargeant says Bristol Herald Courier's Chris Dumond is relying on 'a First Amendment right (she) does not believe exists.'  07.24.02

Supreme Court turns away jailed writer's appeal
Vanessa Leggett had asked justices to use her case to give writers, reporters more rights to protect the confidentiality of their sources.  04.15.02

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