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Jailed writer wins PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award

By The Associated Press

04.12.02

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HOUSTON — A novice crime writer who spent 5 months behind bars for refusing to turn over her notes about a Houston society killing has won the prestigious PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award.

Vanessa Leggett, 33, will receive the literary fellowship's award and accompanying $25,000 prize April 24 in New York.

Leggett's 168-day stint in a federal detention center was the longest jailing of any U.S. writer who has used the First Amendment to reject a grand jury subpoena. She was freed Jan. 4 after the grand jury ended its term. At the time of her release, federal prosecutors indicated they could ask Leggett for her notes again.

In naming Leggett the recipient of the PEN award yesterday, the judges called her "a powerful example of personal conviction and courage in the face of the most extreme pressure" and "a hero in the effort to preserve investigative freedom for writers and journalists in the U.S."

The ranks of the PEN American Center include some of the country's most prestigious writers. The PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award was established 10 years ago by actor Paul Newman and author A.E. Hotchner "to honor a U.S. resident who has fought courageously, despite adversity, to safeguard the First Amendment right to freedom of expression as it applies to the written word. "

"I'm proud of her and I'm glad others have recognized the personal sacrifice she has made for all of our rights," Mike DeGuerin, Leggett's attorney, told the Houston Chronicle in today's editions.

A telephone number for Leggett was not listed, and she could not be reached this morning by the Associated Press.

Leggett went to jail last July 20 rather than answer questions before a grand jury about her confidential sources or turn over her research in the April 1997 slaying of Doris Angleton, wife of former millionaire bookie Robert Angleton.

DeGuerin had argued she was protected by a journalist's constitutional right against divulging confidential sources. But a federal judge disagreed, saying she couldn't claim reporter's privilege against a grand jury subpoena. Several journalism groups supported Leggett's fight.

Angleton, 53, is free on bond awaiting trial on federal charges of conspiracy, murder for hire and a firearms violation in connection with his wife's death. A state court acquitted him of murder charges in 1998.

Leggett had interviewed Angelton's brother, Roger, whom authorities suspected was hired for the slaying. He committed suicide in jail 10 months later, leaving a note exonerating his brother.

Related

Texas writer set free
But U.S. Attorney's office spokeswoman refuses to say if government will continue to pursue Vanessa Leggett's notes.  01.04.02

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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