Why Jail Vanessa Leggett?
Leggett, a would-be true crime writer in Houston, Texas, is fast
becoming the latest martyr of the Fourth Estate in the eternal,
albeit sporadic, conflict between reporters who refuse to divulge
their sources or information and prosecutors who believe that to
jail them is divine.
to Justice Confusing, in which a strange unsolved case has become
a twisted one. We tell the story the best we can at this point,
with more questions than answers.
April 16, 1997, Doris Angleton was murdered at home in a wealthy
section of Houston, Texas, a venue of notoriety already established
by 1971s famous "Blood and Money" case. She had
been shot 13 times, seven in the head. Her husband, Robert Angleton,
described by local media as a millionaire "bookie to the rich
and famous," and his brother, Roger, a somewhat offbeat and
unstable character, were subsequently charged with capital murder.
prosecution theory was that Robert, who had been at a softball game
with his twin teenage daughters when his wife was so brutally murdered,
had commissioned Roger to be the trigger man. The prosecutors had
some evidence, including a typewritten manual for the crime,
Roberts fingerprints on money wrappers, approximately $64,000
in cash and tapes of Roger and another man plotting a murder
seized from Roger when he was arrested.
is pertinent to note here that Robert, as an adjunct to his underworld
activities, was an informant to both the Houston police and the
then, Vanessa Leggett. In researching the case for a book she hoped
to write, Leggett interviewed Roger Angleton in jail, on tape. Shortly
thereafter, Roger committed suicide in jail, confessing in notes
to the murder and indicating that he had framed his brother in a
bizarre extortion effort (and not the first one either, Robert told
the police). Whatever Roger Angleton told Vanessa Leggett has never
been made public, but her notes and tapes were subpoenaed and turned
over in 1998 to local prosecutors preparing to try Robert.
August 1998, Robert Angleton was acquitted, with jurors saying they
could not be sure the other voice on Rogers murder-planning
tape was Roberts. Neither Rogers suicide notes exonerating
his brother nor Leggetts tapes, which are rumored to implicate
Robert, were introduced at trial. After the trial, prosecutors indicated
that Leggett had been prepared to testify.
local prosecutors referred the case to federal prosecutors to pursue
gambling, tax evasion and money laundering charges. They also gave
the Feds copies of Vanessa Leggetts notes and tapes.
federal grand jury was empaneled, and Vanessa Leggett testified
before it in December 2000, according to her attorney, Mike DeGeurin.
Then, in July of this year, the Feds subpoenaed all of Leggetts
research on the case. After several years of seemingly cooperating
with the authorities, Leggett refused to comply. Following a closed
hearing, the record of which is sealed, Leggett was jailed on July
19 by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon on contempt of court charges,
bail denied. Unless freed on appeal, Leggett could remain there
for 18 months, the duration of the grand jury.
Leggett is the first "reporter" to be jailed by a federal
judge for refusing to divulge information since 1991. Justice Department
rules adopted during Watergate require that the U.S. Attorney General
approve all subpoenas to and arrests of reporters. In this case,
however, the Justice Department contends that Leggett is not a legitimate
reporter because she is unpublished and unaffiliated with any news
Leggett has authored anything other than several university publications,
there are no listings in the most extensive databases available.
Not that she hasnt been trying. The Houston Press has
somewhat disparagingly referred to her as "the most prolific
Houston true crime writer never published," and has reported
her attempts to sell the Angleton story to that paper and others.
This is not her first brush with a murder case, the courts or a
book project. In 1997, she testified in a case involving a convicted
murderer, about which she was also writing a book, but her testimony
was perfunctory and noncontroversial.
intriguing, however, are her other credentials. She has been a paralegal
with several major law firms and a licensed private investigator.
Since 1995, she has been an adjunct lecturer at the University of
Houston-Downtown, teaching in the English departments professional
writing program. In addition, while she may not have published as
a writer, she is one of four named editors of The Varieties of
Homicide and Its Research: Proceedings of the 1999 Meeting of the
Homicide Research Working Group. That academic collection was
issued by none other than the FBI Academy. She has also lectured
as an expert on domestic violence.
August 2, 2001, Leggetts attorney, Mike DeGeurin, appeared
on the Today show and was interviewed by Katie Couric. He
dropped something of a bombshell, saying, "They came to her
first and asked her to be a secret informant for the FBI. And when
she refused, because she couldnt be an independent journalist
and a secret informant for the FBI, they subpoenaed her to bring
all of her archives, all of the tapes, and originals and
copies, and turn them over to the grand jury."
federal authorities clearly want everything Leggetts got or
they want to harass her, or both. But why? Having her thrown in
jail was obviously going to exponentially expand visibility of the
case, subjecting all concerned, including the Justice Department,
to greater scrutiny and criticism, possibly winding up in the U.S.
Feds already have her notes and tapes of the Roger Angleton jailhouse
interview. Those relate to the murder, which theoretically the Feds
should not reprosecute, absent unusual circumstances. In addition,
it is an open question whether anything Leggett has would be admissible
in court, even if useful to the investigation.
Roberts background as a bookie with prominent clients, who
and how many show up in Leggetts research? Did they talk to
her as confidential sources? Given Roberts background as an
informant to the local cops and the FBI, does Leggett have information
about other cases that could cause embarrassment to the authorities
or interfere with ongoing investigations? Was Leggett simply the
recipient of an overbroad subpoena, or does the government really
want both her original and all copies, and, if so, why? Obtaining
information for an investigation is one thing; depriving Leggett
of access to her own work is another. Not to put too fine a point
on this, but the government has been known to "lose" evidence.
journalist groups and editorial writers have, correctly, rushed
to Leggetts defense, whether she is or is not a legitimate
reporter could be a difference without distinction, from a legal
perspective. The aforementioned Justice Department rules provide
some deference to journalists with regard to source and information
disclosure, but it is only deference, for all practical purposes
providing only bragging rights that the Attorney General personally
threw a reporter in jail.
law on testimonial privilege for journalists is exceptionally murky,
literally all over the map, because a great deal depends on what
court jurisdiction a journalist is subject to. There is no federal
shield law for journalists, although 31 states plus the District
of Columbia have enacted them. Texas has none.
the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled directly on the issue only once,
in Branzburg vs. Hayes, in 1972. That decision provides little
clarity because of an odd court split. Four justices (White, Burger,
Blackmun, Rehnquist) held that there is no privilege for journalists.
Justice Powell concurred, but suggested that a qualified privilege
should apply in some circumstances, which was the position of the
four justices in dissent (Stewart, Douglas, Brennan, Marshall).
qualified privilege, enunciated by Justice Stewart in his influential
dissent, imposes a three-part test before journalists may be compelled
to reveal confidential information to a grand jury. The information
must be clearly relevant, cannot be obtained by alternative means
"less destructive of First Amendment rights" and be of
"compelling and overriding interest."
of their differences, all nine justices believed that journalists
could ultimately be compelled to testify. That is as it should be,
we believe, provided that the government reaches a high burden for
necessity of the testimony. While journalists must never, ever,
be agents of the government, neither may they shirk their responsibilities
as citizens when information they have is essential to justice.
immediate fate hinges on the current attitude of the Fifth Circuit
Court of Appeals. Its last ruling, in a 1998 case, viewed to be
a severe blow to journalistic privilege, does not bode well for
her. By the same token, since Leggetts contempt hearing was
closed, with a sealed record, no one can, at this point, determine
if the government met any burden at all with regard to the necessity
of her testimony. There is, however, an ambient pungency to this
find it ironic that the federal authorities appear to be conveying
legitimacy to Leggetts research, but not to her standing as
a reporter. On that standing, we are dogmatic. The First Amendment
does not make qualitative judgments, and neither may the Justice
Department. Rookie freelance journalists may not be denied the status,
whatever its legal worth, afforded to their grizzled brethren. It
is still sometimes the "children" who proclaim that the
emperor is without clothes, and Justice White worried eloquently
in the Branzburg decision regarding judicial attempts to
define a category.
ultimate irony of this case is that the jailing of Vanessa Leggett
may well provide her with the publishing opportunity that she has
till now been denied, amplified by the megaphone of celebrity. We
eagerly await the tale that only she can tell, very possibly after
adding her name to an important Supreme Court case.
August 16, 2001
Leggetts contempt-of-court-hearing before U.S. District
Judge Melinda Harmon was closed to the public, record sealed.
will be Leggetts appeal, on the docket for August 15
before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition,
that court has nixed requests by The Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists
to argue before the court on Leggetts behalf.
the court may impose those strictures. Whether it should is
another matter. As citizens, we look to our courts not only
for justice but also for intelligence. Neither is evident
in these decisions.
Department and Judge Harmon have already insured that this
case is going to be covered, covered again and then covered
some more. Jailing reporters will do that. Now, a sizable
number who buy their ink by the barrel and broadcast by satellite
are going to go at this with a vengeance. Closing hearings
and denying journalist groups the right to make arguments
on behalf of their own will do that.
well be that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has thus
far had no personal involvement in this case. He should step
in now, before disaster becomes catastrophe.
Case Against Vanessa Leggett
It May Be Legal, But It Aint Right
15, Vanessa Leggett got her day in court before a three-judge
panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. She was
not there; shes still in jail.
was open to the public - not closed as the judges had
originally intended - as a result of an emergency motion
filed by a group of major news organizations.
to a variety of news reports, the court did not appear sympathetic
to granting Leggett any kind of testimonial privilege. Be
that as it may, federal prosecutors were forced to lay heavy
stink on what theyre about by acknowledging that they
do not know if Leggetts information is relevant or not
and dodging questions about what is now clearly an excessively
broad subpoena, before relenting to at least allow Leggett
to keep copies of her work.
telling, the prosecutors resorted to the old "grand jury made
us do it and we cant talk about it because grand juries
are secret" line, which should have been gonged out of the
courtroom, but wasnt. For anyone under the age of 12
who doesnt already know this, grand juries are almost
always the docile pawns of prosecutors, as in the famous line
regarding the indictability of a ham sandwich. Its a
rare grand juror, indeed, who even asks to go to the bathroom
outside of scheduled breaks.
interview with the Houston Chronicle outside the courtroom,
Leggetts husband said he had not even been allowed to
visit his wife for the first 10 days she was jailed, the excuse
being paperwork and the need to screen visitors. Want to make
the case that this isnt harassment in light of that?
read Chinese, but if the state-run media in the Peoples
Republic isnt on this case like white on that fine sticky
rice, wed be surprised. Whats our government going
to say the next time we legitimately criticize the Chinese
for human rights violations, and this gets thrown in our face?
We didnt make Vanessa Leggetts family pay for
an execution bullet? We didnt sell her organs to the
is a matter of perspective, and someone at the Justice Department
is losing it over this case.
August 20, 2001
Pursuit of Justice or Wingtipped Thugs?
17, only two days after hearing arguments in the case, a three-judge
panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that
the requirement of grand jury testimony supersedes any First
Amendment privilege for journalists absent evidence
of governmental harassment or oppression.
Leggett will thus remain in jail until she complies with the
governments subpoena or the grand jury expires. There
is, of course, the faint possibility that grown-ups in the
Justice Department - smelling the impending public relations
debacle that is already way down the slope - reign in
is only one positive aspect to the ruling: it sets the stage
for a legitimate and important appeal to the U.S. Supreme
Court. It is past time for a contemporary ruling to bring
clarity to a host of conflicting lower court rulings resulting
from the judicial confusion - or willfulness - engendered
by the split court ruling in Branzburg v. Hayes.
of this specific case and freedom of the press to adequately
inform the public without undue government interference argue
strongly for qualified privilege for journalists, in line
with the three-part test delineated by Justice Stewart in
his Branzburg dissent.
by Greta van Susteren on CNN, Leggett outlined details of
her case that should disturb us all, including the attempt
by the government to turn her into a paid informant (and forego
publishing her book). She believes she has no information
that the government does not have or could not get, and thus
her incarceration is nothing more than harassment. She says
she will do her time rather than reveal information she received
are four fundamental questions that must be answered about
this case - in the courts or in the press:
Vanessa Leggett a journalist in the eyes of
the First Amendment?
she have information that can be obtained through no other
means that is essential to justice in a criminal case?
the government conducted itself properly or is it time for
those who value liberty and law on the same plane to begin
thinking wingtipped thugs?
killed Doris Angleton?
August 30, 2001
a Book, Justice Jolly?
three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
heard the appeal of Vanessa Leggett, Judge Grady Jolly remarked,
"Here we have just someone who is writing a book."
understatement, the Houston Chronicle commented that
the remark is "not a sign of optimism on the First Amendment."
It is lamentably a lot worse than that. It is actually evidence
sufficient to the understanding that Judge Jolly views book
writers as lesser creatures under phylum "journalist."
lesser nor greater, Judge, just different, but still, depending
on the subject area and approach, very much a part of journalism.
The part that can stretch out, in detail, in depth, in context
and elucidate the whole of a story, or the closest that mere
mortals can get to it.
the tantalizing aspects of the Leggett case is that the woman
the Justice Department would denigrate as not a journalist
and Judge Jolly would dismiss as just someone who is writing
a book is becoming the most important symbol of a free press
against an overreaching government in decades. She did not
seek that role, but she is fulfilling it with honor and dignity
and courage. Not to mention that while the stones were being
thrown at her, she became a published writer, with
a "My Turn" column in Newsweek. Her story
from jail is simply told, without artifice, conceit or anger.
a journalist, Judge Jolly. Shes a journalist, General
Ashcroft. You may keep her in jail, but before this is over,
her pen will become mightier than your power. That is because
there are elements of this case that square not with the pursuit
of justice. The stench is of your houses, not hers.
read Vanessa Leggetts "My Turn: My Principles Have
Landed Me in Jail" click on:
Assault on the Press:
A Justice Department Pattern
those, like us, who have wanted to believe that the Justice
Department assault on Vanessa Leggett is an isolated incident
of a petulant FBI and overzealous federal prosecutors, without
the knowledge or involvement of grown-ups at Justice, we must
rethink our position.
comes news of the subpoena of home telephone records
of John Solomon, an Associated Press reporter. Making bad
worse, Solomon learned only last week that the records had
been turned over to the government by MCI Worldcom in May.
has been covering the federal investigation of U.S. Senator
Robert Torricelli. It is believed that the government is attempting
to identify sources of a Solomon story that appeared on May
4. That story revealed that a Torricelli telephone conversation
had been picked up by a government wiretap deployed in an
organized crime investigation.
this point, the story approaches gangs who cant shoot
straight territory regarding who authorized the subpoena of
Solomons phone records.
was first reported that the subpoena had been authorized by
Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Thompson, with indications
from an unnamed administration source that Thompson, newly
appointed, did not understand the sensitivity of his decision.
Follow-up reports indicate that the dastardly decision is
to be hung on none other than Robert Mueller, the new FBI
Director, who was Acting Deputy Attorney General at the time
of the subpoena.
signed off on the subpoena, the Attorney General of the United
States is John Ashcroft, and under his ultimate authority
the decisions about both Leggett and Solomon have been made.
Right now, hes in a bad place, from a public relations
perspective. If he does not renounce or explain or temper
the actions against Leggett and Solomon, he risks an all-out
war with the press and we can remember no one who has
ever won that war when it is about the bedrock principles
of the First Amendment.
press should be frequently flogged with words
for specific and numerous faults. But the freedom of the press
should not be assaulted by the government through the use
of police powers.
First Amendment does not know and cannot recognize ideology.
It is deaf, dumb and blind to all but one principle
the freedom to speak and publish and worship freely. That
principle is not without the rational limitations imposed
by other constitutional protections, but any erosion of the
First Amendment is cause for alarm.
weeks column on the subpoena of AP reporter John Solomons
home telephone records did not acknowledge that Attorney General
John Ashcroft has recused himself from decisions regarding
the governments investigation of U.S. Senator Robert
do so now. Attorney General John Ashcroft has recused himself
from decisions regarding the governments investigation
of U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli. That changes nothing about
the responsibility for the untoward invasion of a reporters
records, without his knowledge, before he had any opportunity
to register a legal objection.
rooted in the Torricelli investigation, the search for government
employees who have leaked information about it in violation
of rules and/or laws is arguably another case entirely. Even
if it is not, the Attorney General is ultimately responsible
for the procedures that govern Justice Department activity.
He has either sent no signal about freedom of the press or
he has sent the wrong one.
writer, in another lifetime and along with others, pursued
stories that were as popular with a prior administration as
mosquitoes in the bedroom. Some of the efforts at retaliation
against us were creative and insidious, making the mere seizure
of phone records seem like a day in Mr. Rogers neighborhood.
We communicated by pay phone, met with sources in bars where
even the best undercover agents would have looked out of place
and, when our levels of paranoia were not sufficient, medicated
were not alone, and if we had been as good at money management
as we thought we were at uncovering bad stuff, we might have
made it long enough to hit the Enemies List. But we were early
and gone in the night. That was a bad time in America; the
country does not need another like it.
had high hopes for a straight arrow Justice Department for
a change, and we havent given up on this one yet, but
its just the first inning and there are already two
throws at journalists that seem like beanballs.
5 , 2001
not know what is meant by pundits who proclaim the "death
of irony," post 9-ll. To us, the height of irony is an
American journalist in an American
jail, put there in July by a Justice Department which now
seeks expanded powers to battle terrorism, while pledging
not to trample civil liberties.
Leggett can give no witness to those good intentions. Every
day she stays in jail bears silent testimony that skepticism,
like liberty, should be strengthened, not surrendered. Vanessa
Leggett is in jail because she will not surrender to the government
information provided to her in confidence about a notorious
Houston, Texas, murder case. She obtained the information
while researching a book.
written about the case to the extent that we are able (see:
Jail Vanessa Leggett?")
while publicly scarce, are disturbing. Too many of them scream
railroad job; too few point to an objective pursuit of justice.
for Individual Freedom has contributed to Vanessa Leggetts
defense fund. We did so because we believe shes an honest
and honorable journalist, punitively jailed under law that
is murky, poorly understood and inconsistently applied.
that the U.S Supreme Court should revisit the issue of journalistic
privilege and provide the clarity that is currently absent.
We believed that before the horrific events of 9-11, and we
believe it even more strongly now. This nation at war has
historically produced significant tension between the acute
needs of government for secrecy and the right of a free press
to inform the public. That will only intensify in an environment
where confidential sources are often the only sources. Whatever
the legal strictures are to be, the Supreme Court needs to
define them with an exceptionally bright line.
Leggett case provides the best opportunity for timely Supreme
Court review. Following the rejection of Leggetts appeal
by a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals,
her attorney, Mike DeGeurin, has petitioned for a rehearing
by the full court, fulfilling all procedural requirements,
but likely to be denied.
the brief as filed, click
here. It contains a revelation that adds substantively
to the disturbing details of the case. The record of Vanessa
Leggetts contempt of court hearing before federal district
Judge Melinda Harmon was closed, the record sealed. However,
in DeGeurins brief, the judge is quoted as saying, "[b]eing
unfamiliar with this process, having never done this before
and needing to rely upon the experience of all the attorneys
her ignorance, the judge then proceeded, refusing repeated
requests by DeGeurin for a delay that would have allowed all
participants, including the judge, to prepare. As citizens,
we are frequently told that ignorance of the law, as complicated
as it has become, is no excuse for violating it. That is equally
true for judges in applying the law.
Leggett and the forces that have imprisoned her are locked
in a battle of wills; hers appears guided by conscience and
principle. No justice is served by her continued incarceration.
Neither is the necessary belief that the Justice Department
will do the right thing as tensions of crisis mount.
came to office as Attorney General with a reputation for integrity
and honor, despite controversies over his positions on a variety
of issues. In refusing to mount legal challenges to which
he was entitled over an election for the U.S. Senate that
raised significant questions, he stood for principle. He should
do that again, by affecting the release of Vanessa Leggett,
pending the exhaustion of her appeals. That is not too much
to ask; it is not unreasonable to expect.
6 , 2001
Motion Filed Requesting Leggetts
November 5, 2001, attorneys for Vanessa Leggett filed a motion
before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals requesting Leggetts
release on bond.
Leggett is not a flight risk. She is not a danger to the community.
She is not a criminal. She is a prisoner of conscience, and
if the court has one, it will release her.
read the motion as filed, click here.
It speaks for itself.
Court Denies Leggett Rehearing, Refuses Bond
Fifth Circuit U.S Court of Appeals has denied Vaoessa Leggett
a rehearing by the full court and rejected a request to release
her on bond.
Houston, Texas writer and teacher has been jailed since July
20 for refusing to turn over to federal prosecutors all of
her research on a notorious Houston murder case.
Vindicate Vanessa Leggett!
(The Supreme Court Gets Its Chance)
this week, attorneys for Vanessa Leggett, the Houston writer
and teacher jailed for refusing to surrender confidential
research material to the government, appealed her case to
the U.S. Supreme Court (the complete petition is posted below).
this is being written, early on Friday, January 4, Leggett
is expected to be released by order of a federal district
judge. The grand jury which (technically) sought her incarceration
expires todaypresumably without bringing any indictments.
It is by no means certain that Leggetts trials are over,
since federal prosecutors have indicated they will continue
their quest for her material.
jailed on July 20, 2001, has now done more time than any other
journalist as a matter of conscience and more than a lot of
criminals with no conscience. Why? Read the Centers
extensive coverage of the case here
and decide for yourself. One hint: The objective pursuit of
justice is not a correct answer.
friend of ours, a brilliant professor of constitutional law,
recently said he could not understand the Centers support
for Leggett on constitutional grounds, unless there are supporting
facts. Well, there are, and they smell worse than a busload
of skunks in the Texas sun.
also believe Leggett is a journalist. We believe that journalists
are entitled to a limited, qualified privilege under the First
Amendment. We believe that the (essentially) 4-4-1 decision
by the Supreme Court in l972 in Branzburg v. Hayes
has been too disparately interpreted by lower courts,
making the issue a form of judicial roulette, depending on
jurisdiction. Whatever the law is to be, it should be clear
to journalists and the government. Only the Supreme
Court can render that clarity, and there is no better time
than now, no better case than Leggetts. We hope the
court accepts it.
read the brief, please click below:
Table of Contents and Table of Authorities
Pages 1-14 of the Petition
Pages 15-30 of the Petition
Files Brief on Behalf of Vanessa Leggett
Center for Individual Freedom has filed an amicus curiae
brief with the Supreme Court in support of Vanessa Leggetts
petition asking the Court to hear her case.
Leggett is the Houston, Texas, writer and teacher jailed for
168 days for refusing to reveal confidential sources and information
regarding a notorious murder case to federal prosecutors.
That refusal followed an attempt by the FBI to convert Leggett,
who is writing a book on the case, into a paid undercover
Centers brief argues the public interest necessity for
qualified testimonial privilege for journalists. It also stresses
the acute need for Supreme Court review to establish clear
guidance to lower federal courts, which are widely split on
the issue as a result of the Supreme Courts l972 plurality
decision in Branzburg v. Hayes.
written in the Centers brief, "Our ability to govern
ourselves is threatened every time a party, prosecutor, or
grand jury merely fishing for information compels a news gatherer
to reveal a confidential source or other unpublished information.
A clearly articulated, universally applied, qualified news
gatherers privilege is the strongest shield against
this threat. The Court should take the opportunity presented
by this case to definitively recognize such a privilege and
thus ensure the publics right to know."
read the Centers brief, click here.
To read the Leggett petition, click here.
Center has written extensively on the Leggett case (click
here) and has contributed to her legal defense fund.
(And the Murder Case That Isnt)
when anyone paying any attention at all thought the Robert
Angleton/Vanessa Leggett case was curious enough, it got more
purposes of simplification, lets go back a bit. Last
year, federal prosecutors pursuing Robert Angleton, the millionaire
Houston bookie already acquitted in a state court of murdering
his wife, had Vanessa Leggett thrown in the pokey because
she wouldnt rat out confidential sources for the book
she is writing on the murder.
prosecutors, hiding behind a standard-issue grand jury burka,
were aided and abetted by a federal district judge, who, in
a secret hearing, acknowledged her ignorance of the law she
was asked to interpret. Instead of reviewing the law before
acting, the judge threw herself on the mercy of the lawyers
arguing before her to render her judgment that Leggett was
in contempt of court for insisting that the First Amendment
actually means something. For that, Leggett gained entry into
the Guinness Book of Naughty Journalists Records, doing more
time than any other journalist in history for refusing to
burn confidential sources.
l68 days of taxpayer-funded, federal detention center hospitality,
Leggett was freed at the expiration of the grand jury term.
Some of the more cynical among us wondered if the release
would only be temporary, a prosecution ploy to moot out the
recently filed request for U.S. Supreme Court review of Leggetts
case. Such things happen in America.
the Supreme Court does accept the case, there is always the
faint possibility that one or two journalists will actually
see this story as big enough to investigate the factual circumstances
of the case instead of asking Leggett inane questions about
how it felt to be in jail. Given a big old bag full of unanswered
questions, theres at least a reasonable surmise that
a couple of tough stories would prove significantly embarrassing
to some people.
any rate, and you must follow closely now, the original grand
jury expired on January 4without returning any indictment.
Then, on January 25, FBI agents arrested Robert Angleton at
his home. The charges are conspiracy, murder for hire and
firearms violations. The indictment was returned by a new
what obtains here?
grand jury met for a full eighteen-month term (with extensions)
without returning an indictment. What was that grand jury
doing all that time? Waiting for Leggett to fold and hand
over the research that prosecutors maintained was so critical
to their investigation, while otherwise acknowledging that
they didnt have a clue what her research shows? Or maybe
just running the jail clock on Leggett, whose journalistic
credentials they had disparaged at the same time they were
acting like her investigative abilities had bested those of
the federal government?
the information Leggett refused to provide was critical to
returning an indictment, then how is it that the new grand
jury, which could not possibly have sat for more than l3 days
(if it was seated after the old grand jury expired) was able
to whip out a three-count indictment so quickly? On what new
evidence that was unavailable to the just-expired old grand
are some indications from FBI testimony at Angletons
bail hearing. Agent Cynthia Rosenthal, who is married to the
former state prosecutor who lost the original case against
Angleton (not that theres anything wrong with that)
and who also played a lead role in the attempt to recruit
Leggett as a paid undercover informant, told the judge that
the FBI lab had "enhanced" a tape recording of two
men conspiring to murder Robert Angletons wife. BUT,
the identification of the voice prosecutors have alleged to
be Roberts on that tape has already been challenged
by a voiceprint expert (originally hired by the prosecution),
as well as witnesses who are quite familiar with Roberts
voice. In fact, uncertainty over the tape was cited by several
jurors as the reason for Angletons original acquittal.
FBI "enhancement" of the tape is certain to face
a withering attack from Angletons attorney, Michael
Ramsey, a criminal defense gunslinger of the first order.
In addition, the recent ruling by a federal judge on fingerprint
evidence (click on Myth
of Fingerprints) is likely to cast something of a cloud
on the introduction of any "scientific" evidence
in high profile criminal cases.
the bail hearing, Agent Rosenthal also referred to a taped
conversation between Robert Angleton and Vanessa Leggett during
which Angleton allegedly said, "Only two people in the
whole world knew about the murder, and one of them was not
Roger." (Roger was Angletons brother who committed
suicide in jail, leaving a suicide note confessing to the
murder and exonerating Robert.) Whatever that comment means,
and whatever its relevance as evidence, it is hardly new and
represents material that Leggett voluntarily provided to prosecutors
as not violating the confidentiality of sources.
is a story with no end in sight, which isnt all that
bad for those of us who love a good whodunit and who sometimes
suspect skullduggery even among those who are supposed to
be the good guys. When the story does end, its going
to be written by Vanessa Leggett, the only character in this
entire tragicomedy so far whose honor and integrity have been
thoroughly tested and found beyond reproach.
Leggett Accepts First Amendment Award
Crown Publishing Buys Her Book
April 24, 2002, Vanessa Leggett, the Texas writer jailed for
refusing to reveal confidential sources or to turn over all
her research to federal prosecutors investigating a notorious
murder case, received the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment
poignant acceptance remarks follow.
week, Crown Publishing made a pre-emptive bid for publishing
rights to Leggett's book about the case and her ordeal.
I was in jail, I really didn't think my life could get any
more surreal. I was wrong.
have been selected as this year's PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment
Award recipient, I am both honored and humbled. Having been
confined to a place where civil rights are contemptuously
regarded as "legal loopholes" or antiquated nuisances, I can't
tell you how good it feels to be in the company of those who
not only respect the First Amendment, but actively work to
defend free expression and give it life in their art.
September 11, many of us considered freedom as natural and
invisible a part of life as breathing. My awakening occurred
a bit earlier. On July 20, when I had to lose my physical
freedom to prevent the government from controlling my intellectual
independence, I realized first-hand that free expression is
as vital to free society as oxygen is to life. Being in this
great city is a poignant reminder that the mere threat to
our freedom rouses an instinctive, formidable resistance.
So it was, I think, with me and other PEN/Newman's Own First
Amendment award recipients-the writers, academicians, publishers,
schoolteachers, editors, booksellers, and librarians often
regarded as quiet, contemplative types-who, finding themselves
in a position to defend the First Amendment, intuitively understood
free expression is worth fighting for.
closing, I'd like to acknowledge those who helped make this
event possible. First, I want to thank Paul Newman and A.E.
Hotchner for establishing this award and Mr. Newman especially
for sponsoring it in furtherance of his self-described "shameless
exploitation in pursuit of the common good." Special thanks
also to PEN American Center for administering the award and
allowing me this high honor. Next, I thank Lucy Dalglish,
President of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press,
for her nomination and the judges for selecting me. I am also
indebted to a host of individuals and organizations, including
the Reporters Committee, the Society of Professional Journalists
and the Center for Individual Freedom. And finally, as someone
who's grateful to be back in the "free world," I'd like to
salute each of you at PEN American Center and the several
thousand other members of PEN around the globe for recognizing
that a world without free expression is not a free world.
April 24, 2002
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