A timeline of 'Jenny's Law'

HOUSTON – For a young woman by the name of "Jenny," an Odyssey through our criminal justice system began in August 2014. At the time, "Jenny" was homeless and struggling with severe mental illness. She was raped by Keith Hendricks, a man prosecutors called a serial predator.

In the months that followed, Hendricks was arrested and the case went to trial. "Jenny's" testimony was crucial to the prosecution's case. She had a mental breakdown on the witness stand, and the decision that followed created a shock wave felt all the way to the state Capitol.

"At the end of the day, she received less due process, less protection than the rapist did," KPRC legal analyst Brian Wice said in July 2016.

"Jenny" was initially hospitalized, but the Harris County district attorney needed to make sure she came back to court to complete her testimony. After being released from the hospital, prosecutors had "Jenny" put in jail on something called a "witness bond."

Court records show "Jenny" was in the jail's general population for 27 days. Channel 2 Investigates obtained records showing some members of the jail staff were confused as to whether "Jenny" was a victim or a suspect. Medical staff wrote "Jenny" was "arrested for aggravated sexual assault," and "didn't know why she has been charged." In jail, "Jenny" got into fights with another inmate and guard.

"Jenny" completed her testimony and was eventually released. Hendricks was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but her attorney argued the damage to "Jenny" was done. "Jenny" is suing Harris County.

"This young lady should never have been put in the Harris County Jail. This is not an environment for a rape victim," attorney Sean Buckley said in July 2016.

At first, then District Attorney Devon Anderson declined to talk on camera. Following KPRC 2's initial report, Anderson released her own video defending the decision.

"If nothing was done to prevent the victim from leaving Harris County in the middle of trial, a serial rapist would have gone free," Anderson said on a video uploaded to YouTube on July 20, 2016.

Despite standing firm on her prosecutor's decision, Anderson did order staff to receive more training on how to handle crime victims who are mentally ill.

Following KPRC 2's initial story, then Sheriff Ron Hickman said he was not initially notified of "Jenny's" situation.

"Once the circumstances were brought to our attention, we acted on it immediately," Hickman said in July 2016.

The prosecutor who made the decision to put "Jenny" in jail, Nick Socias, spoke publicly in October 2016. Socias said the witness bond was the only option given "Jenny’s" severe mental illness and reluctance to return to the witness stand. Socias did provide emails showing he repeatedly told jail staff "Jenny" was a victim, not a suspect, and she needed to be housed in the jail's mental health unit. Socias said his pleas were rebuffed.

"I say, 'Well, that's not acceptable because I'm telling you she needs further treatment,'" Socias said in an October 2016 news conference.

This entire ordeal quickly became the focal point of the hotly contested race for district attorney in November 2016. Kim Ogg was Anderson's challenger.

"The pursuit of justice is the District Attorney's job, not securing convictions at any cost," Ogg said.

By November, Anderson and Hickman lost their bids for re-election. Ogg then terminated Socias when she took office at the beginning of 2017.

Lawmakers also responded to KPRC 2's series of stories by filing Senate Bill 291. The bill was filed by state Sen. John Whitmire.

"This bill is of highest priority," Whitmire said during a March hearing on the bill.

Whitmire's bill requires a hearing in open court before a witness bond is granted. If one is granted an attorney will be appointed to represent the witness and regular hearings held to make sure the bond is still needed. None of those protections were in place when "Jenny" was put in jail.

Ogg and victim's rights advocates lobbied for the bill, which sailed through the Texas House and Senate. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill Monday, and it goes into effect Sept. 1.

As for "Jenny," her mother said she is getting the treatment she needs, but daily life is still a struggle.

"I tell her that's it's passed and I'm very proud of her, and because this law is going to be passed for you and it's going to be called 'Jenny's Law,'" she said.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”