Issue 85, Spring 2002
Vanessa Leggett, the freelance journalist who was jailed in Texas for refusing to give government prosecutors confidential source material, is the recipient of the prestigious 2002 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award, which carries a $25,000 prize. The award cites Leggett “as 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.”
Leggett had been researching and writing a non-fiction book about the murder in 1997 of a Houston socialite, Doris Angleton, whose husband, Robert, was charged with hiring his brother, Roger, to shoot her. Leggett had interviewed Roger Angleton in prison before he committed suicide and she turned over those tapes to a grand jury. But Leggett refused to turn over tapes of everyone she had interviewed, claiming a reporter’s privilege from being forced to disclose confidential sources. A federal judge ruled that the Fifth Circuit “does not recognize such a privilege … in a criminal case.” Leggett was sentenced to prison without bail for 18 months or until the termination of the grand jury. She served 168 days until the grand jury completed its work in January. The Supreme Court has refused to hear her appeal.
Leggett may not yet be out of the woods. A federal indictment has been filed against Robert Angleton which may require her testimony and test her mettle again.