Walter Ogrod Freed from Pa Death Row

Walter Ogrod, who spent almost 30 years in prison, including 27 on death row, was released on Friday, June 5, 2020. His conviction and sentence were overturned by Court of Common Please Judge Shelly Robins New. Following an investigation by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, Walter Ogrod was deemed “likely innocent” of the murder of four-year-old Barbara Jean Horn. Ogrod is now set to become Pennsylvania’s eighth death row exoneree and the 169th nationwide.

This case bears a striking similarity to previous exonerations. Ogrod, who is intellectually disabled, is a victim of severe police and prosecutorial misconduct. In 1992, Ogrod was coerced into confessing to the 1988 murder of Barbara Jean Horn. After being interrogated for more than eight consecutive hours, Ogrod confessed to the crime.

Five people witnessed Barbara Jean’s killer on the day of her murder; they described a man who looked nothing like Ogrod. After a mistrial in 1993, prosecutors relied upon the perjured testimony of a serial jailhouse informant to convict him in the 1996 retrial. No forensic evidence tying Ogrod to the crime was presented at trial, and the jailhouse informant went on to receive a significantly lenient sentence after testifying.

In 2018 the Philadelphia Conviction Integrity Unit found that there was no reliable evidence suggesting that Ogrod was guilty, leading the District Attorney’s Office to call for Ogrod’s release. The victim’s mother, Sharon Fahy, also called for Ogrod to be released.

“It was too easy to present false testimony. It was too easy to get away with prosecutorial misconduct. It was too easy for the state to convict an innocent man and then have him sentenced to death,” said Akin Adepoju, board president of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. He continued, “what happened to Walter isn’t a thing of the past. It continues to happen. It is evident beyond the shadow of a doubt that we need to eliminate the death penalty.”
Ogrod’s conviction was set to be overturned in a hearing before a judge on March 27th, until the Covid-19 pandemic struck. With jails and prisons acting as a petri dish for the virus while withholding testing, Ogrod displayed all of the classic symptoms including a fever reaching 106 degrees.

Senator Katie Muth, prime sponsor of the bill to abolish the state’s death penalty says, “The release of Mr. Ogrod has been unjustly delayed. His case is yet another example of how our flawed criminal justice system harms innocent people and often fails to provide true justice to victims and their families. I’m grateful for DA Krasner’s work and persistence in changing the outcome.”

Senator Sharif Street adds, “This travesty underscores my continued belief that the death penalty cannot be administered in a way that is efficient, just, and without error at all times. I urge my colleagues to join me as a co-sponsor of SB990 to end capital punishment in our commonwealth.”

PA Representative Chris Rabb, a prime co-sponsor of HB2211 demanded, “All the Walter Ogrods on death row should be released because they had no business being there in the first place!”

Kathleen Lucas, Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death penalty remarks, “The thought that the Commonwealth might have executed this innocent man is chilling. I know our legislators are troubled by this broken system. Now is the time for them to join the bipartisan push to end our state’s use of capital punishment.”

The injustices in Walter Ogrod’s case remain glaring. Walter will never get back decades of his life, and Barbara’s family still does not have the closure they deserve. His case is a reminder that the death penalty is not justice.