HOUSTON – A Channel 2 Investigation has confirmed another rape victim was held in jail so prosecutors could assure she would testify against her attacker and help put him in prison. And in this case, the witness was held improperly.
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson confirmed during a news conference there had been an error.
Channel 2 is not naming the rape victim, but the case involves William Ford Jr., who ultimately pleaded guilty in the sexual assault case.
DNA helped identify Ford as the suspect, but it was after the victim had been sentenced to six months in jail in unrelated drug possession case.
“We bench warranted her back from state jail to talk about rape case and while she was in jail her sentence expired and she ended up spending two extra months in the Harris County Jail that she shouldn’t have spent,” Anderson said. “We are looking into it.”
Anderson said the woman was ultimately released.
“At this point I’m going to say it was our fault, from what I know today,” she said. “It looks like a mistake was made from our office.”
The news comes after a Channel 2 investigation that showed Jenny, a mentally ill rape victim who broke down on the witness stand and said she would not return to testify, was held in jail for 27 days. While in jail she was beaten by an inmate, thought by some staff working in the jail to be the rape suspect and ultimately punched a guard herself.
While being held in custody, Jenny returned to testify against rapist Keith Hendricks and helped prosecutors put the serial rape suspect in prison for two life sentences.
Anderson said Hendricks is believed to have raped 11 women. In Jenny’s case, Hendricks had been released from custody less than a month before he raped Jenny.
“I’ll say something Jenny. I am very sorry about how all of this played out. The last thing we every want to do is cause further distress further traumatize a victim. “It was an extraordinarily difficult situation, as I’ve said before. I really do think the term ‘perfect storm’ fits here, I think she knows that the prosecutor who handled this meant no harm and was seeking justice for her and the 11 victims he raped,” Anderson said.
DA Audited Witnesses in Jail
Anderson said her office has reviewed cases of witnesses currently held in jail.
As of Monday, 35 people were being held in the Harris County Jail as witnesses. Each of them was already in jail on another matter, she said.
One additional person was being held in jail and was not charged with a crime.
The man, who Channel 2 is not naming because he is not charged or suspected of any crime, is homeless and has been in jail since May 2.
“This person is a critical witness in a capital murder case. He is homeless and transient,” Anderson said of the reasons why prosecutors asked a judge to issue an order holding him in jail.
The man was a material witness to a murder prosecutors say was committed by Christopher Shae Lewis. Lewis, police say, killed Donche Webb during a robbery in South Houston in 2014. Lewis was charged Jan. 2, 2015, and is scheduled for trial in September.
Anderson announced she expected the witness to be released to live with his mother, who had recently found her own housing. Anderson said the witness could be released as soon as Monday afternoon.
Changes in Law, DA Policy
Anderson said she would like to see state law changed so any witness sent to jail would have an attorney appointed to represent the witness’ best interests.
“I’m going to ask one of our prosecutors to write some legislation that will mandate the appointment of an attorney for people on a witness bond,” Anderson said. “I think they need their own advocate. I think it should be mandatory that if a judge, in these very rare circumstances, issues a witness bond they should have to appoint an attorney. That’s going to be one of our focuses this session.”
Anderson announced a new tracking system will be used internally to keep tabs on prosecution witnesses in jail. She identified a criminal justice process coordinator as the job position that will be tasked with that duty. She said the position has not been filled.
Special Prosecutor Denied
Sean Buckley, Jenny’s attorney, delivered a letter Monday morning asking Anderson to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Jenny’s jailing was legal.
Buckley wrote in the letter to Anderson that “evidence shows that prosecutors and others in your office broke the law.”
He noted that Jenny was not under a subpoena, wasn’t a resident of Harris County and couldn’t pay a bond.
Buckley says those requirements must be met for an “attachment order” to be issued. That is the legal mechanism used to hold a person in jail even though they have not committed a crime.
Anderson said her office did not break the law and declined to call for a special prosecutor to investigate.
“We do that when there is evidence that a member of my staff has committed a crime. That is simply not the case here. We had a prosecutor who went to a judge and asked for a remedy,” Anderson said. “No crime was committed. I will not recuse myself off this case. I will keep an open mind if further facts develop.
If you have a tip about this story, email investigative reporter Jace Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or text him at 832-493-3951.