Jailed Writer Finally Freed

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By: Todd Shields

Updated at 11:45 a.m. EST.

Novice crime writer Vanessa Leggett emerged from a Houston jail on Friday, ending a record-breaking 168 days of incarceration for refusing to give prosecutors notes about a 1997 murder.

“I’m just very grateful to be free,” the Houston Chronicle quoted Leggett as saying as she left a federal detention center. “Downtown Houston never looked so good. I feel good — I was able to maintain my journalistic integrity so far.”

Leggett, 33, was jailed on contempt charges July 20 after refusing to give federal prosecutors her research material into a 1997 slaying. She was released as the grand jury probing the slaying ended its term.

Leggett said she planned to write a book about the slaying. Prosecutors said she does not deserve journalists’ protection from demands to reveal sources; many journalists disagreed and Leggett attracted support from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and others.

Leggett attorney Mike DeGeurin said he still would pursue a U.S. Supreme Court hearing to settle the question as a safeguard against her being jailed again.

Kesha Handy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Houston, would not comment on whether the government planned to convene another grand jury or to again ask Leggett for her notes.

Before Leggett’s incarceration, the longest jail stay for refusing to turn over notes was 46 days, served in 1972 by Los Angeles Herald-Examiner reporter William Farr for not disclosing source material in the Charles Manson murder cases.

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