(AP) A novice crime writer who spent 5 months behind bars for refusing to turn over her notes about a Houston society killing has won the prestigious PEN First Amendment Award.
Vanessa Leggett, 33, will receive the literary fellowship’s award and accompanying $25,000 prize April 24 in New York.
Leggett’s 168-day stint in a federal detention center was the longest jailing of any U.S. writer who has used the First Amendment to reject a grand jury subpoena. She was freed Jan. 4 after the grand jury ended its term. At the time of her release, federal prosecutors indicated they could ask Leggett for her notes again.
In naming Leggett recipient of the PEN award Thursday, judges called her “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.”
The ranks of the PEN American Center include some of the country’s most prestigious writers.
A telephone number for Leggett was not listed, and she could not be reached Friday morning by The Associated Press.
Leggett went to jail July 20 rather than answer questions before a grand jury about her confidential sources, or turn over her research on the April 1997 slaying of Doris Angleton, wife of former millionaire bookie Robert Angleton.
Her attorney had argued she was protected by a journalist’s constitutional right against divulging confidential sources. But a federal judge disagreed, saying she couldn’t claim reporter’s privilege against a grand jury subpoena. Several journalism groups supported Leggett’s fight.
Angleton, 53, is free on bond awaiting trial on federal charges of conspiracy, murder for hire, and a firearms violation in connection with his wife’s death. A state court acquitted him of murder charges in 1998.
Leggett had interviewed Angelton’s brother, Roger, whom authorities suspected was hired for the slaying. He committed suicide in jail 10 months later, leaving a note exonerating his brother.