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Overdue videos land her in jail

Name used in '89 by renter, she says

Thursday, December 20, 2001

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It was bad enough that Anna Mae Leach spent a week behind bars in the Allegheny County Jail because of some long overdue videos.

Even worse, the Castle Shannon woman said, is that she never took them out.

Her troubles started on the evening of Nov. 20, when she backed out of her driveway and collided with a neighbor's car.

The next day, two constables showed up at the gas station where she works as an attendant and presented her with an arrest warrant, charging her with theft of leased property. The warrant also characterized her as a fugitive from justice.

Naive, confused and frightened, Leach said she tried to bargain with the two men, promising she would turn herself in the day after Thanksgiving, while she got her affairs in order.

But the constables, who were not identified in court papers, refused. They took her to the county jail.

"They said that I would be arraigned and I'd be out in a few hours," Leach said.

As the hours turned into days, Leach, 40, said she sank into despair, locked in a cell by herself and still not knowing precisely why she was there.

"The hardest part for me was being away from my daughter," she said.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus ordered her released on her own recognizance Nov. 28. But it wasn't until she appeared before him Dec. 5 for her arraignment that she learned the details regarding her arrest.

In February 1989, someone rented three movies from West Coast Video on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield in the name of Anna Gildea, which was Leach's maiden name. The complaint said that she owed the store $190 for the overdue tapes.

Leach, who grew up in Bloomfield and lived there most of her life, acknowledged that she had rented videos from that store, but said she wasn't the person who took out those videos. She believes someone forged her name.

In 1988, Leach and her then boyfriend, Robert Leach, moved to Franklin, Venango County. The couple were married and remained in Franklin until 1996, when her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

They returned to Pittsburgh in April 1996 while he was being treated at UPMC Montefiore. He died that July.

For five years, she lived in Castle Shannon with no inkling that she was a wanted woman. The warrant for her arrest was discovered by police who ran a routine background check after the fender bender in front of her home.

Nauhaus was incredulous when he learned that Leach had been jailed for a week over some overdue video tapes.

"I did the best I could," Nauhaus said this week after ordering Leach to be released. "I let her out of jail."

Tomorrow, Leach is scheduled for a pretrial conference before Common Pleas Judge W. Terrence O'Brien. A trial date is expected to be set then.

Leach isn't sure what she is going to do next. She said that she doesn't have a lawyer and cannot afford one. She said she does not qualify for services of a public defender because she owns a home.

Leach said that she cannot believe that the case is proceeding, and she wants more than justice. She said she wants someone to pay for her humiliation because she insists that she never rented the videos.

"This has damaged my reputation," she said. "My dad [a former Pittsburgh policeman who died of a heart attack] was probably rolling over in his grave."



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