Depending on whom you ask, Vanessa Leggett is either a defender of the free press, or an aspiring author seeking publicity.
The 33-year-old English instructor is hoping to write a book about the sensational 1997 murder of Doris Angleton, wife of Robert Angleton, a millionaire bookie in Houston. CBS News Correspondent Maureen Maher reports Leggett is locked in a federal prison for refusing to turn over her records of interviews with Robert's brother, Roger Angleton.
CBS News' 48 Hours is pursuing the story and has interviewed Vanessa Leggett in reporting the story.
Leggett said she originally planned to write a book about a man on death row in Texas when the Angleton case piqued her interest.
Doris Angleton was shot 12 times in the head and chest by an intruder at her home in an affluent Houston neighborhood on April 16, 1997. Her husband found her body and told police that he suspected his brother was to blame.
Authorities arrested Roger Angleton in June that year. They found with him a note that mentioned "$100,000 a year until 2005" and information about the Angleton residence's gate and alarm codes.
Police also obtained a taped telephone conversation between two men planning Doris Angleton's murder; friends said one the voices was the husband's.
The brothers were indicted on capital murder charges in 1997. Leggett interviewed Roger while he awaited trial at the Harris County Jail.
But Roger committed suicide at the jail before either trial. He left notes confessing that he shot his sister-in-law, that he planned the killing, and that he framed his brother to extort money from him.
Harris County prosecutors went ahead with Robert Angleton's trial in July 1998, alleging that he hired his brother to kill Doris to prevent her from getting millions of dollars in a settlement of their pending divorce.
A voice identification expert originally hired by the prosecution said the voice on the incriminating tape was not that of Robert. A jury acquitted Robert Angleton of his wife's murder.
Harris County prosecutors had subpoenaed tapes of Leggett's interviews with Roger Angleton, and she supplied them with copies. Those tapes were not presented during Robert Angleton's trial, nor did Leggett testify.
But FBI agents told her in November last year that they wanted her records of interviews with Roger as part of a federal investigation of Robert Angleton. She said she refused their invitation that she sign on as a confidential informant.
Leggett expected to answer questions about her jailhouse interviews when she testified before the grand jury in December, but the questions started to focus on her confidential sources.
Leggett cited the First Amendment as protection when she refused to turn over her interview records, which she said would compromise confidential sources as well as strip her of material needed to write a book about the Angleton case.
Federal prosecutors say Leggett is not a journaist. She has taught syntax to technical writers as well as criminology and police courses, but she has not published a book or news articles.
Leggett says, "if the courts do not recognize a privilege, then the American public loses because they will lose in effect a free and independent press."
Former Texas state prosecutor Nelda Blair counters, "she's a part-time teacher, she's a wanna-be author. Even if she is a journalist, journalists are not protected like some supreme being from not ever giving up anything."
First Amendment advocates say this is the most important free press case in three decades. "It's going to be very difficult to assure a source that your are going to be able to promise them confidentiality after this case, if it goes the wrong way," thinks Lucy Dalglish, Reporters Committee For Freedom Of The Press.
Late Tuesday, a federal appeals court agreed to open an expedited hearing after an emergency motion by ABC Inc., the AP, Belo Corp. CBS News, National Broadcasting Co. Inc., The New York Times Co., the Society of Professional Journalists and Tribune Co.
But Leggett remains incarcerated, hoping her expedited appeal secures her freedom. She tells CBS News she's willing to take her case "as far as it needs to go."
Mike Ramsey, one of Robert Angleton's attorneys, said he was puzzled at the interest in Leggett's records.
"I don't think this is aimed at her conversations with Roger," Ramsey said. "There is another agenda here. We had everything at the time of the state trial that was of evidentiary value."
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