Walter Ogrod, Death Row Inmate, Exonerated after 28 Years

Exoneree Walter Ogrod celebrating his release from prison by playing with his lawyer Tracy Ulstad’s dog. Photo: Tracy Ulstad courtesy of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

By Peter Eibert and Ankita Joshi

(Editor’s note: The Philadelphia DA’s Office released the first of what will be regular reports on the work of the CIU, which in fewer than four years has helped secure the exonerations of 20 people in 21 cases.  The report, “Overturning Convictions – and an Era,” is available for download here:  The Vanguard is publishing stories on each exoneration).

PHILADELPHIA, PA – On June 10, 2020, Walter Ogrod became the 169th person to be exonerated from death row since 1973.

Ogrod was arrested in 1992, and subsequently convicted of the first degree murder of four-year-old Barbara Jean Horn. Ogrod’s conviction drew a lot of national attention due to the nature of the investigation, especially after the notorious case had gone cold for four years.

On the same afternoon that Horn was murdered, five eyewitnesses said they saw a man moving a cardboard box through the neighborhood. Horn’s body was later found on the street inside a
cardboard box about 1,000 feet from her home in Castor Gardens.

Ogrod was not a suspect in the initial investigation despite living in the same neighborhood as Horn, where she was murdered.

The nature of the crime drew enough attention that the investigative series, Unsolved Mysteries, did a nationally broadcasted segment on the investigation. Despite this attention, no evidence pointed to Ogrod as a suspect.

After some time, Horn’s case went cold.

About four years after Horn’s murder, two new detectives were put onto the case. Ogrod, after not sleeping for about 30 hours, during which he drove a delivery truck for 18 hours, was summoned to the Philadelphia Police Administration Building as a witness in the Horn cold case.

The detectives conducted an unrecorded interview for 14 hours which resulted in Ogrod signing off on an alleged confession to the murder – a confession that the detectives had written entirely themselves. Supposedly, the confession document which Ogrod signed was a verbatim transcript of his confession.

One year after his arrest, Ogrod went on trial for the alleged murder of Horn.

During this first trial, the defense contended that Ogrod’s confession had been coerced, and were successful in convincing the jury to acquit.

However, one juror announced that they did not agree with the verdict, resulting in a mistrial.

In October 1996, Ogrod was tried again.

During this second trial, the only evidence used by the prosecution included the coerced confession by Ogrod and the testimony of a jailhouse informant, which proved to be enough to convict Ogrod.

Ogrod was convicted of premeditated murder and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, and was sentenced to death.

After requesting multiple reviews, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed Ogrod’s death sentence and denied the request for re-argument in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

Ogrod’s fortunes improved in 2018, when the CIU conducted a new investigation of the trial with newly discovered scientific evidence.

The most important piece of evidence was that the crime played out contrary to the detectives’ assertions. The layout of Ogrod’s house made the events in his confession impossible.

The detective’s investigative file also provided them with ample material with which to craft the fraudulent confession of Ogrod. The file provided them with key details about Ogrod’s house and the alleged murder weapons.

Furthermore, Ogrod’s confession contradicted Horn’s cause of death as determined by the forensic neuropathologist.

The forensic neuropathologist had handwritten notes at the trial prosecutor’s pretrial interview which indicated that Horn died from asphyxiation. Ogrod’s so-called confession asserted that Horn died from blunt force trauma.

On June 5, 2020, Ogrod was granted a virtual hearing to overturn his wrongful death penalty conviction on the basis that he was “likely innocent.”

Assistant District Attorney Carrie Wood offered apologies to Ogrod, Horn’s family, and the city for the mishandling of the case, and declared Ogrod as innocent.

Additionally, Wood and the District Attorney’s office apologized to Ogrod for “this misconduct result[ing] in 28 years of your life being stolen,” and that he was “also threatened with execution based on falsehoods.”

Ogrod’s charges were reduced to third degree murder, so that he could be released on bail.

And on June 10, 2020, the exoneration efforts of Ogrod’s defense team were finally reached once Judge Leon Tucker moved to grant the prosecution’s motion to dismiss all charges against Ogrod.

Ogrod is now living with his family. He is said to be happy to be reunited with his family and friends.

Ankita Joshi is a second-year student at the University of San Francisco, pursuing a major in International Studies and a minor in Political Science. She is originally from Sacramento, CA.

Peter Eibert is a fourth-year student at UC Davis, majoring in Political Science and minoring in History. He is originally from Half Moon Bay, California.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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