A federal appeals court on Friday refused to free a writer jailed for withholding notes from a grand jury investigating a 1997 Texas society 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. She is working on a book about the case.
"The district court did not abuse its discretion in ordering Leggett incarcerated for contempt," said an opinion issued by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Leggett was found in contempt of court July 20 for refusing to share all of her interviews with a federal grand jury. She is being held in federal detention in Houston and could spend up to 18 months there.
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, a millionaire former bookie 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.
CBS News' 48 Hours is pursuing the story and has interviewed Vanessa Leggett in reporting the story.
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 appeals court ruling said Leggett is not entitled to First Amendment protection for refusing to hand over her notes:
"Even assuming that Leggett, a virtually unpublished free-lance writer, operating without an employer or a contract for publication, qualifies as a journalist under the law, the journalist privilege is ineffectual against a grand jury subpoena, absent evidence of governmental harassment or oppression."
Earlier this week, Leggett said she had planned to finish her book this summer, but that 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."
The opinion came two days after the case was argued before a three-judge panel of the appeals court. The order was not signed.
"This court takes a narrow view of the journalist's privilege in criminal cases, particularly in grand jury proceedings," the order said.
Dozens of news organizations, including CBS News, have come out in support of Leggett. Last week, the appeals court denied requests by news organizations to argue on the writer's behalf.
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 mor.
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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