Mercenary or Media Martyr?

A self-proclaimed journalist has had a paying job -- private eye

"They saw each other on an almost daily basis when he was in jail here," recalls Skelton. "She knew more about Roger than any living human being on the planet."

Lyn McClellan, the assistant Harris County District Attorney who was co- prosecutor in the Angleton trial, says there was no way to use either Leggett or her tapes in the state case. The tapes, contends McClellan, amount to hearsay from a dead man that could not have been introduced without turning the murder trial into the Vanessa Leggett soap opera.

"They were going to cross-examine her for days, and it was going to be made into a sideshow. In our opinion that was going to do as much harm as good."

Newscasts project Leggett as a media damsel in distress.
Newscasts project Leggett as a media damsel in distress.

"I'd love to try the case again," says McClellan wistfully, "but I'd never come close to putting Leggett or any of that stuff in there." McClellan can't understand the federal strategy in going after Leggett's files, since he believes they are unusable as court evidence.

Leggett's interview techniques are not quite those taught in journalism school. According to McClellan, Leggett told prosecutors that Roger Angleton told her to stop tape-recording their sensitive conversations in jail. So she shut off her visible tape recorder for his benefit -- and tricked him by continuing to tape with a recorder hidden in her purse. Such behavior might be S.O.P. for a private investigator but is clearly in violation of journalistic ethics.

Asked his opinion of Leggett's status as a journalist, McClellan laughs. "We've both published the same amount. She hasn't published anything and neither have I."

Another prosecutor in the Angleton case, Ted Wilson, has authored a book on search and seizure. Quips McClellan: "He's more of a journalist than she may be."

Both the Houston Press and the Houston Chronicle rejected accounts Leggett wrote of the Angleton case. While a Chronicle editorial described her as "a credible magazine journalist," her contacts with Texas Monthly never resulted in either a bylined story or payment for work.

TM Executive Editor Skip Hollandsworth recalls encountering Leggett when he was writing on the Angleton murder. He was impressed with her sources. When Leggett claimed she could get an interview with Roger Angleton, who was then being held in Las Vegas, Hollandsworth gave her an introductory letter to Nevada authorities designating her as representing TM. (The Press also furnished her with a similar letter.) Leggett paid her own way to Nevada but never got the interview, and Hollandsworth wrote his story without Leggett's assistance.

After her subsequent jailhouse interviews with Angleton, Hollandsworth suggested that she write a story for the magazine. Leggett never followed through with it, he says. That seems to be the extent of her track record as a magazine journalist.

When Leggett got the federal subpoena, Skelton says she turned to him for advice. He told her, " 'Vanessa, I don't think this is going to work.' Then she hired some media [attorney] who blew a bunch of smoke up her skirt. After the hearing when Harmon said, 'You've got to turn it over,' she called me and said, 'Is what she said right?' And I said, 'Yeah.' "

Skelton keeps up an almost daily correspondence with the jailed Leggett. In a recent note, Skelton wrote the detainee: "You may be the only person in the world who gets a book published and an agent because you got your ass thrown in jail."

While he likes Leggett as a person, Skelton has trouble accepting her defense as a print journalist.

"I just didn't think that she qualified as that, and I've always discouraged it…I've just never been optimistic about her chances of being able to stay out of jail and not disclose the information."

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