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Supreme Court turns away jailed writer's appeal

By The Associated Press

04.15.02

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WASHINGTON — A novice crime writer who spent more than five months in jail for refusing to turn over research notes about a society killing lost a Supreme Court appeal today.

Vanessa Leggett was jailed longer than any U.S. writer who has used the First Amendment to reject a grand jury subpoena.

The court did not comment in turning down Leggett's request that the court use her case to give writers and reporters more rights to protect the confidentiality of their sources.

"Courts have repeatedly acknowledged the chilling effect and resulting self-censorship that discovery of a journalist's unpublished information can have on the gathering and reporting of news," her lawyer, Michael DeGuerin, wrote in urging the court to hear her appeal.

Leggett was released in January, a few weeks after the appeal was filed. The government argued the release made her case irrelevant.

Her lawyer replied that she still faces the threat of a new government subpoena for her interviews and other notes.

Leggett is on the government witness list for the upcoming federal trial of a prominent Houston man accused of ordering the killing of his socialite wife. DeGuerin told the high court that she will again refuse to turn over any confidential material, and "faces a substantial threat of future incarceration," the lawyer wrote in additional court papers.

A federal appeals court ruled against Leggett last year, when she was still in jail.

Leggett refused to turn over research she did for a planned book about the death of Doris Angleton, who was shot a dozen times in her home in an exclusive Houston neighborhood in 1997.

Robert Angleton, a former millionaire bookie, was acquitted in 1998 of state charges in his wife's death. His brother, Roger, was also charged but committed suicide in jail. He left behind a note confessing to shooting his sister-in-law and framing his brother to extort money from him.

A federal grand jury began reinvestigating the case in 2000, and prosecutors wanted to present Leggett's research to the panel. When she refused, she was held until the grand jury's term expired.

Robert Angleton was later reindicted, and the FBI says it has new evidence against him.

Leggett, an English teacher and novice crime writer, won the prestigious PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award last week.

The case is Leggett v. United States.

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

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

2001-2002 Supreme Court term coverage
Analysis and other coverage of the 2001-2002 U.S. Supreme Court term.  11.01.01

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

Freelance journalist files motion to quash testimony
Michael Finkel is also trying to withhold correspondence, taped interviews with Oregon man accused of killing his family.  02.24.03

Kansas judge: Reporter's notes are protected
Wyandotte County district judge cites First Amendment, state law in refusing to force Kansas City Kansan journalist to turn over records.  10.21.02

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