Writer jailed more than five months for not turning over notes is being set free

Friday, January 4th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ A novice crime writer was released from jail Friday after spending more than five months behind bars for refusing to hand over notes about a murder case.

``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 notes was to end its investigation Friday, her attorney, Mike DeGeurin said.

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

Standing between DeGeurin and her husband, Doak, Leggett said she planned to continue working on her book about the society murder and incorporate her jail experience into it.

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.

Federal prosecutors contend Leggett is not a journalist and so does not get special protection under the First Amendment. Leggett has not published a book or news articles.

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 protecting sources. 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.