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A novice crime writer at the center of a First Amendment dispute took her case to a federal appeals court where at least one judge was skeptical about her refusal to surrender notes about a 1997 murder. Vanessa Leggett, 33, has spent nearly a month in jail for failing to hand over the notes that contain information about the shooting and ensuing jailhouse suicide of a suspect. “You’re swimming upstream,” 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Grady Jolly warned defense attorney Mike DeGeurin on Wednesday as he began to argue why writer Leggett should be granted First Amendment protections. “When the press stands before a grand jury in a criminal proceeding, the press stands on the same footing as anyone else,” Jolly said. “What makes this case different?” DeGeurin said a subpoena requesting all originals and copies of notes, interviews and transcripts made by Leggett is “unreasonable, oppressive and nonspecific.” Leggett was found in contempt of court July 20 for refusing to share all of her interviews with a federal grand jury. She could spend up to 18 months in federal detention. Doris Angleton was found shot to death in her Houston home April 16, 1997. Her husband, Robert Angleton, and his brother, Roger, were charged with capital murder. Prosecutors alleged that Robert Angleton hired his brother to kill his wife to prevent her from getting millions in a divorce settlement. Roger Angleton spoke with Leggett before committing suicide in jail before his trial. He left behind notes confessing to the slaying, saying he planned the murder and framed his brother. Federal prosecutors contend Leggett is not a journalist and therefore does not fall under the First Amendment’s protection of the press. Leggett has not published a book or news articles. The panel asked prosecutor Paula Offenhauser why the government’s request of Leggett was so broad. Offenhauser said she couldn’t answer the question without revealing secret grand jury testimony, but said federal prosecutors do not question a grand jury’s motives as long as it produces relevant evidence. “Are you suggesting … you do not know what this lady has?” Judge Emilio M. Garza asked. “It is true, we don’t know exactly what it is,” Offenhauser said. Judge Edith H. Jones said the subpoena’s request for all copies and originals concerned her. Jolly asked Offenhauser if the government might be able to narrow its subpoena to make it more relevant. “In the context of a grand jury investigation, it makes no sense to say we should seek out alternative sources,” Offenhauser responded. “The function of a grand jury is to investigate.” Leggett had planned to finish her book this summer, but says she’s been delayed by her fight with the government. “There’s a lot more at stake than one person going to jail,” Leggett told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “What is at stake here is a free and independent press.” Leggett said under the threat of arrest, she submitted tapes of her interviews with Roger Angleton to state investigators. The tapes now have been given to federal prosecutors, but Leggett says they still want more. Late Tuesday, a federal appeals court had agreed to open the hearing to the public 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. The news organizations claimed constitutional interests override the remote possibility that grand jury information might be disclosed. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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