Pennsylvania man is freed after years behind bars for a crime he likely did not commit.
Walter Ogrod was sentenced to death row at State Correctional Institution-Phoenix and spent almost thirty years behind bars after being convicted of the 1988 killing of a four-year-old girl in Pennsylvania. Now, he will walk free after prosecutors concluded he likely did not commit the crime. Ogrod was ultimately granted bail in the case involving the death of Barbara Jean Horn.
The exonerated man’s attorney, James Rollins, said, “He was very pleased and relieved to be out of prison. He is very tired.”
Prosecutor Carrie Wood apologized to Ogrod, who still faces a small chance of a third trial. “I’m sorry it took 28 years for us to listen to what Barbara Jean was trying to tell us: that you are innocent, and that the words of your statement of confession came from Philadelphia Police detectives and not you…We not only stole 28 years of your life, we threatened to execute you based on falsehoods.”
Judge Shelley Robins-New said she was not able to throw out the case entirely but she lowered the charge to third-degree murder, giving the inmate the ability to post bail and ultimately be released. She cited “prosecutorial misconduct and new evidence.”
Ogrod’s attorneys alleged from the beginning law enforcement officers coerced a false confession from their client, and they maintained Barbara Jean may have died of asphyxiation, not blunt force trauma to the head as was tried in court. The attorneys also said jailhouse informants lied about Ogrod admitting to the crime and that eyewitness accounts of a man who left the child’s remains in a box did not match Ogrod.
Barbara Jean was found by a neighbor, left in a television box on a curbside about 1,000 feet from her home. Responding officers reported the child’s body had been partially wrapped in a trash bag. Ogrod was arrested for the crime four years later.
“His confession,” his attorneys said, “had wrong details about the crime’s major elements, including how the child died.” Prosecutors and Ogrod’s attorneys agreed there is no physical evidence linking him to Barbara Jean and the case relied on the witness and his confession.
In April, Barbara Jean’s mother, Sharon Fahy, submitted a statement on Ogrod’s behalf, saying, “There is no question in my mind that Mr. Ogrod is innocent and that he should be released from prison immediately. My daughter is never coming home but I wanted justice for her, not simply a closed case with an innocent person in jail. Two families have already been destroyed. Keeping Mr. Ogrod in prison does nothing to accomplish my goal of bringing the person that killed my Barbara Jean to justice.”
Wood told Fahy, “This office has not told you the truth about what happened to your little girl so many years ago. The truth is painful and terrible, but it is what you deserved to hear from this office and we did not do that. And I am so sorry.”
Andrew Gallo, an attorney for Ogrod, said: “Until today, our society – our justice system – has failed Walter Ogrod and Barbara Jean’s family.”