(March 16, 1998) -- Jason Leigh was known to many web surfers as a somewhat quirky and outspoken UFO enthusiast. He claimed to have a Ph.D. and referred to himself as "Doctor." He posted numerous papers he had written about UFOs on web pages provided for him by the webmaster of the Roswell International UFO Museum, although museum officials deny any official connection with Leigh.
Nowhere in his posted writings did "Dr." Jason Leigh intimate that he would one day place himself in an armed standoff with Federal officers in, of all places, Waco, Texas. But that's what happened at about 6:45 am on Sunday, March 8, 1998 when Leigh, 49, rammed a white Jeep Cherokee through a security gate and into a back entrance of the Waco Veterans Affairs Regional Office. After barricading himself inside the building, he called 911 on a cellular phone and told police what he had done. He said he was armed and claimed to be carrying explosives.
On hearing Leigh's threat to use explosive, police reportedly evacuated hundreds of people from a 30-square-block area around the VA building. Those people were not allowed back into the area until noon on Monday, after bomb-sniffing dogs had determined there were no explosives in the building.
Leigh, a Vietnam veteran, demanded $1 million for himself and fellow veterans. In a statement to a local television station, he said: "I, Jason Leigh, do hereby defend this, my vested interest in the form of this building, to the death or until such time as Congress and or the U.S. Senate pass a law protecting our fallen, disabled and homeless veterans by depositing $1 million in the stated name of SOS, Save Our Soldiers."
After 14 hours of negotiations, Leigh surrendered peacefully to police without his demand being met. No shots had been fired.
On Monday, March 9, he was arraigned on felony charges of possessing a firearm in a federal facility while committing extortion. Outside the federal courthouse after his arraignment, Leigh explained that he had tried every way he could think of to collect on his claim for medical benefits from the Veterans Administration. Leigh says he sustained severe back injuries while in the military. He has had metal pins inserted in his back and lives with constant pain, according to people who know his case. He wants thousands of dollars in alleged uncollected benefits for an operation in Europe that could relieve his pain.
"There's no other way to get them to listen," he said, explaining his armed assault on the VA facility. "I tried letters, I tried e-mail, I tried phone calls, I tried friends -- I tried everything I possibly could."
Following his arraignment, Leigh was returned to the McLennan County Jail, where he was held without bond awaiting transfer to a federal facility. The charges against him carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
"We feel like he is a danger to the community," Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston said. "We don't want people coming to Waco, Texas, thinking it's a place where you can make a point."
Leigh's driver's license shows he lives in Cleburne, Texas (about 20 miles south of Fort Worth), at the same address as his 71-year-old mother. He is known around Cleburne as a UFO enthusiast and an aspiring unpublished poet.
"He's a gentle man as far as I'm concerned," said Lori Elmore-Moon, a former reporter and editor for the Cleburne Times-Review who has known Leigh for several years. "He needs help."
Leigh's internet postings describe a UFO sighting he had in Cleburne on June 11, 1995. The sighting was reported in area newspapers at the time. Leigh says he saw a silver, silent cigar-shaped object floating above the golf course.
On another occasion, according to Elmore-Moon, Leigh says he was in the woods playing his guitar when he experienced a period of missing time. She said he never directly claimed to be an abductee.
While Jason Leigh may have seen a UFO, many of his claims don't hold up under scrutiny. He doesn't have any college degree at all, much less a Ph.D. -- a fact that emerged during his arraignment.
In writings found on the Internet, Leigh says he served as a military policeman and Navy Seal during the Vietnam conflict. But a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs told reporters that Leigh served in the U.S. Navy only from November 1966 to May 1967, not long enough to even get through Seals training.
A federal agent close to the case characterized Leigh as having "a very active imagination."
Unfortunately, the medical help he needs for his back will now have to wait while he stands trial. If, as expected, he is convicted as charged, he will then serve at least several years in prison, where his pain will increase. The future does not look bright for Jason Leigh.
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