Without debate, the Texas Senate unanimously approved "Jenny's law" Wednesday, named for the mentally ill rape victim who ended up in jail for 27 days before testifying against her rapist. The former administration of the Harris County District Attorney's Office claimed she fell through the cracks.
Jenny's law would require witnesses or victims to be appointed a defense attorney and given a full hearing before a judge signs what's called a writ of attachment, the court order allowing witnesses or victims to be jailed in order to secure their testimony at trial. With an attorney advocating for the witness's best interests, the goal is to ensure that witnesses like Jenny don't get "lost in the system," as Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg put it when testifying in support of the bill last week.
"This bill would simply provide constitutional due process to crime victims like Jenny who are subpoenaed and are necessary witnesses in cases, but should not be brutalized in the process," Ogg told the committee. "While this bill comes about as a result of very unfortunate circumstances that happened to one person, it revealed that there was a process in Texas of jailing witnesses — not all with these results, not all bad and certainly not all illegal, but it did raise the need for protection of victims in counties across the state."
The case was at the center of the race for district attorney last year, as Ogg repeatedly criticized former DA Devon Anderson for her office's handling of the rape case.
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Jenny, diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was jailed in December 2015 after prosecutors claimed they could find nowhere else for her to go. She had been called to testify against her rapist, Keith Hendricks, a man with a long history of sexual assaults who had somehow continually escaped lengthy punishment. But while testifying on the stand she suffered a mental breakdown and needed to be hospitalized. She threatened that she would run away and never return to finish her testimony, possibly resulting in the rapist's walking free again.
The prosecutor, Nick Socias, had said he looked for other mental health or hospital placements for her but none were available. Jenny's mother, undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, declined to take in her daughter at home — but emails later provided to the Houston Press showed that her mother wasn't aware that the alternative was taking Jenny to jail and didn't find out until just before Christmas that her daughter had already been booked.
With no attorney to advocate for other options, Jenny remained jailed for 27 days — in general population, where she claims in a lawsuit that she was beaten multiple times and mocked for claiming that she was actually "the victim." Her mother could not afford the $15,000 bail.
"Putting a victim in jail should never be an option," Jenny's mom wrote to lawmakers in a statement. "Today Jenny is still struggling with the entire trauma she endured by the rapist and also being re-victimized by the justice system. I’m asking you as Jenny’s mother and a concerned citizen to consider passing [Jenny's law]."