By Dominique Kato
PHILADELPHIA – The city’s District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unity (CIU) concluded that Walter Ogrod—after being incarcerated nearly 30 year for murder—is likely innocent of the murder of four year-old Barbara Jean Horn because there’s no credible evidence and there was prosecutorial misconduct.
On July 12, 1988, four year-old Barbara Jean Horn was found dead in a cardboard box after going missing from her home in Northeast Philadelphia. Four years later Ogrod, who was Horn’s neighbor, was coerced into confessing—which he later recanted.
At his first trial, a verdict of 11-1 in favor of acquittal led to a mistrial. At the second trial, he was found guilty when a jail informant said Ogrod confessed to him, which would later prove unreliable.
But, now, on June 5, 2020, the Philadelphia District Attorney Conviction Integrity Unity found Ogrod “likely innocent” and Judge Shelly Robins New of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas vacated his murder conviction and death sentence.
They found that lack of evidence, false testimony, coerced confession, and prosecutorial misconduct contributed to this wrongful conviction. The court further reduced the charges against Mr. Ogrod and set bail to allow release based on clear and convincing evidence that he did not murder four-year old Barbara Jean Horn.
Ogrod was convicted and sentenced to death due to faulty and unreliable evidence. The jury that convicted Ogrod heard many “facts” during the trial that were inaccurate and unreliable. The jury was informed that Horn had died as a result of blows to her head from a weight bar used by Ogrod, although at the time of trial the Commonwealth knew Horn most likely died from asphyxia (suffocation) and not blows to the head. Further scientific evidence concluded the cause of death was not from a weight bar.
And a handwritten note was recently found in the trial prosecutors’ file that revealed that they had known these facts prior to the trial and concealed the evidence.
The jury was also informed that Ogrod confessed to both Philadelphia Detectives Martin Devlin and Paul Worrell, who both have a history of abusive and coercive interrogation methods in at least four other cases prior to Ogrod’s. This history of abuse was not shared with the jury at the time.
Ogrod’s police confession was obtained after at least eight (as many as 16) hours of interrogation. Observers said he was sleep-deprived, cognitively limited, and highly suggestible. During the confession, Ogrod provided inaccurate information about all major aspects of the murder, including the cause of death.
Leading experts in interrogations and false confessions agreed that Ogrod’s condition and the circumstances under which his statement was obtained were highly problematic and created perfect conditions for a false confession.
At the trial, the jury was told that Ogrod had confessed to other inmates in prison. One of the jailhouse informants testified for the prosecution on several other homicide trials, nine of which were in Philadelphia. In a letter to his wife, the informant said that he and the other informant received leniency in their own pending criminal cases.
Later, it was found that the informant’s wife would send newspaper clippings to her husband in prison so that he would have all the details to create a confession. She even admitted to contacting Ogrod to befriend him in order to gather additional information.
In documents that were not disclosed at the trial, it stated that one of the informants, Jay Wolchansky, had severe mental health problems that compromised his ability to recount information truthfully and accurately. Fully aware, the trial prosecutor called Wolchansky as a witness and had him testify under oath that Ogrod confessed the crime to Wolchansky.
It was also known that five eyewitnesses who saw the man carrying the box that contained Barbara Jean Horn’s body provided descriptions that differed in every way from Ogrod.
There was no forensic or eyewitness evidence that connected Ogrod to the crime, yet he was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of the four-year-old child.
James Rollins, one of Ogrod’s lawyers, stated, “This is a case where no forensic evidence tied Mr. Ogrod to the crime, where eyewitness descriptions didn’t match Mr. Ogrod, and where police coerced a false confession from Mr. Ogrod which got many of the facts incorrect about the crime he allegedly committed. The state presented false testimony, unconstitutionally withheld exculpatory evidence, and relied on unreliable jailhouse informant testimony to convict an innocent man of a brutal murder.”
The attorney said that had all of this favorable evidence been disclosed, Ogrod could have proven his innocence by directly undermining the scientific evidence, calling into question the competence of the investigation, exposing his confession as false and the jailhouse informants as liars.
The prosecution, defense, the victim’s mother, the trial prosecutor and Ogrod’s attorney all agree he was wrongfully convicted. Barbara Jean’s mother filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the court expressing her belief in Ogrod’s innocence and urging his release.
Assistant District Attorney Carrie Wood issued an apology during a virtual court argument before Judge New on Friday, stating, “Not only did this misconduct result in 28 years of your life being stolen, but you were also threatened with execution based on falsehoods. On behalf of the District Attorney’s Office, I want to offer my sincerest apologies to you, your family, and friends.”
District Attorney Krasner stated, “I want to thank ADA Wood and the Conviction Integrity Unit led by ADA Patricia Cummings for their principled and persistent determination to seek justice based on facts and evidence, always. On behalf of this office, I apologize to Walter Ogrod and his family. I hope he will soon be officially declared innocent of this horrendous crime, making him the 13th individual to be exonerated under my administration.”
Judge New ordered a new trial for Ogrod, consistent with defense counsel’s request and the DAO’s support. However, the District Attorney’s Office has filed an additional motion request to decline to retry Ogrod, after finding that he is likely innocent of the crime. A ruling on that motion is pending.
Video of the Press Conference:
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