Bill filed after Channel 2 investigation into jailing of rape victim

HOUSTON – A state senator has filed a bill in response to a Channel 2 investigation into the jailing of a rape victim.

As KPRC reported, a mentally ill rape victim was jailed last year on a so-called “witness bond” to ensure her testimony at the trial of a serial rapist.

State Sen. John Whitmire on Tuesday filed Senate Bill 291, which would make sure that people held on “witness bonds” are afforded more due process.

Whitmire’s bill would require a hearing in open court before that type of bond was granted by a judge. The bill also calls for an attorney to be appointed to represent a person ordered held on a witness bond. If a person does not live in the county where a trial is being held, Whitmire’s bill would require the hearing to be held in that person’s county of residence.

“The additional requirements for a hearing in open court with the witness being represented by defense counsel will move these matters from a secret meeting in a judge's chambers with only the district attorney present, and will provide needed due process protections for citizen witnesses,” Whitmire said in a statement that accompanied the filing of the bill.

KPRC reported that a woman identified only as Jenny was held in the Harris County jail for nearly a month after suffering a mental breakdown on the stand.

Jenny was originally placed in a psychiatric hospital, but was taken to jail after her release. Officials from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office defended the move, saying that her testimony was crucial to getting a serial predator off the streets, and the options of placing Jenny with family or in a private facility were not available.

As KPRC reported, after Jenny was booked into the jail, some staff members were confused about whether she was a victim or a suspect. Records obtained by KPRC also show that there was more confusion among the staff about what type of mental health treatment Jenny needed.

A prosecutor handling the case said he tried to get jail staff to move Jenny into the mental health unit, but his pleas were rebuffed.