Mother's fight leads to 'Jenny's Law'

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - A soon to-be-passed new law will give added protection to certain witnesses of crime. The law sprang from the hardships endured by a mentally ill rape victim who was jailed for more than a month to ensure her testimony.

"It meant the world to me that everybody knew that this should not happen to anybody's family ever again," said the mother of the woman known as “Jenny.”

For Jenny's mother, seeing a proposed bill pass the Texas House and Senate was both a moment of vindication and validation that what happened to her daughter was wrong.

"I tell her that 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.

"How is Jenny doing?" asked Channel 2 investigator Robert Arnold.

"She is doing better, but it's still a struggle, you know, mentally, for her," she said.

Jenny suffered a breakdown on the stand while testifying against her attacker. To make sure she came back to finish her testimony, Harris County prosecutors put her in jail on a so-called witness bond. For more than a month, Jenny remained in jail, where some staff members became confused as to whether she was a victim or a suspect.

After Channel 2 Investigates brought Jenny's case to light, state Sen. John Whitmire filed a bill that would require hearings to be held in open court before a witness bond is granted. If a bond is granted, then an attorney will be appointed to represent the person and regular hearings will be required to determine if the person needs to stay in jail.

None of those protections was in place when Jenny went to jail.

"So many times in the criminal justice system you see someone being abused, there might be an outcry and at the end of the day nothing is really done about it, and this is a glowing exception to that problem," said Sean Buckley, an attorney representing Jenny in her lawsuit against the county.

District Attorney Kim Ogg made Jenny's case a bedrock of her campaign, in which she defeated incumbent Devon Anderson. Ogg then lobbied in support of the bill.

"This law has historical significance in the victims’ rights movement, it is another milestone for all crime victims who have only sought a level playing field," Kim Ogg said. 

Whitmire’s bill has one more procedural hurdle to clear before it goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed.

Since there was a small amendment made to the bill when it passed the House, the bill must now go back to the Senate for another vote.

Whitmire told KPRC that vote will take place either today or tomorrow.

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