Jenny's Law passes Texas House, giving jailed crime victims protection, representation

By Aaron Wische - Senior Executive Producer, Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - The Texas House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday giving victims of crime jailed for their testimony extra protection and legal representation. 

The state Senate already passed the bill, which now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk for signature.

The bill, named Jenny's Law in honor of a Harris County rape victim who was jailed for a month, was introduced by Sen. John Whitmire, following a series of Channel 2 investigative reports on Jenny's case.

The bill requires a hearing for any witness held in jail on a writ of attachment, which is a legal document giving the county permission to hold a witness who has refused to testify. It also requires an attorney be appointed to represent the witness.

If Abbott signs the bill, it will become law on Sept. 1.

The story of Jenny, a jailed rape victim

Channel 2 Investigates last July broke the story of "Jenny," the case of a mentally ill rape victim who was locked up for nearly a month, and it triggered an avalanche of change in Harris County.

Prosecutors received new training to help mentally ill victims. Incoming District Attorney Kim Ogg made Jenny's case a cornerstone of her campaign and defeated incumbent Devon Anderson, who defended the decision to put Jenny in jail.

Ogg fired the prosecutor who handled the case. 

Investigator Robert Arnold reviewed pages from Jenny's jail file, showing confusion among some staff as to why Jenny was in jail in the first place.

"I think this case, more than anything else, became the litmus test for the public about what type of justice system they wanted," Ogg said.

Sean Buckley is Jenny's attorney; she's suing the county.

"It appears there was confusion," Buckley said.

Buckley said an employee with the district attorney's office took Jenny to jail immediately after she was discharged from a psychiatric care unit at St. Joseph's Hospital.

"There was a vast amount of medical records from St. Joseph's Hospital that never got into the jail's medical records," Buckley said.

Buckley said he wants to know why there was no mention of those records in Jenny's jail file.

"Personnel with the DA's who took her to the jail also brought her medications from St. Joseph's and her St. Joseph's medical records," Buckley said.

Channel 2 Investigates also examined Jenny's jail records. They contain a notation when Jenny was booked into the jail, indicating she had just been released from St. Joseph's, but there is no mention of outside medical records.

"I'm confident DA's office personnel delivered those things to the jail," Buckley said.

There appeared to be more confusion among the medical staff. During different screenings, one clinician wrote Jenny had been "arrested for aggravated sexual assault" and another noted that Jenny didn't "know why she has been charged," and was "unaware of her current charges."

That last assessment came after prosecutor Nick Socias told KPRC2 he called and sent emails to the jail to let them know Jenny was a witness, not a defendant and that he thought she should be housed in the mental health unit instead of general population.

During an interview in October, Socias said jail staff disagreed Jenny needed to be housed in the mental health unit.  Socias said jail medical staff told him Jenny appeared stable and indicated she wanted to remain in general population.

“When has it ever been appropriate for a psychiatric staff to take treatment recommendations or treatment orders from the patient herself,” said Buckley.

The Sheriff's Office explained that medical staff at the jail do not have access to criminal records. So the medical staff only saw the court case to which Jenny was attached, not whether she was a witness or a defendant.

"So those conversations are noted and mentioned in the medical records, and the context of that is the medical staff thought she was disoriented," Buckley said.

"I have great concern that a human being was handled like a piece of evidence," Ogg said.

Download the Click2Houston news app in your app store to stay up-to-date with the latest news while you're on the go.

Sign up for KPRC 2 newsletters to get breaking news, sports, entertainment, contests and more delivered straight to your email inbox.

Copyright 2016 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.