Saturday, April 13, 2024

Walter Ogrod Exonerated in Pennsylvania

Walter J. Ogrod, Pennsylvania

June 6, 2020

On July 12, 1988, a four year old girl, Barbara Jean Horn, was killed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  For days, weeks, and years, her case remained unsolved, garnering national attention, as police had few leads.  Until finally, they narrowed in on a suspect, Walter J. Ogrod, who was a neighbor to Barbara Jean.  In 1996, Walter was sentenced to death.  Twenty-three long years later, Walter was released from prison.

On July 12, 1988, around 3 pm, Barbara Jean’s step-father sent her outside to play while he cleaned out the fridge.  After not hearing from her for 45 minutes to an hour, he went out to check on her.  When he could not find her, he called his wife, and began searching the neighborhood and talking to neighbors.  

That evening another family noticed that a television box had been left outside the house.  They thought it unusual because the trash had been picked up earlier that day.  The father went out to look at the box and upon peering inside, discovered the body of a child.  The family immediately called the police, and the father remained beside the box to ensure it was not disturbed.

Shortly after police arrived at the scene, they learned that a young female child was missing from a house a block and a half away.  The family of the missing girl later identified the child in the box as their missing daughter.  It was four-year-old Barbara Jean.

Barbara Jean was completely nude inside the box and was in a fetal position.  She had been placed in the box and covered with a green trash bag.  The Medical Examiner determined that Barbara Jean had been sexually assaulted and that she had been struck multiple times on the head, likely by a metal rod.  Barbara Jean had bruises on her shoulders and a large gash on her head.

At least two people had seen a man carrying the television box in which Barbara Jean was found.  The witnesses were both able to positively identify the box in which Barbara Jean was found as the box which they observed the man carrying.  The witnesses also provided similar descriptions of the man carrying the box.  However, at trial, they did not identify Walter Ogrod as the man.  One of the witnesses identified another man to the police, being “very positive”…with “no doubt” that it had been the man carrying the box.  Police investigated this lead, but no charges were filed.

After Barbara Jean was removed from the box, it was preserved as evidence.  Police attempted to identify fingerprints on the box and the bag inside, however they were unsuccessful.

The case went cold for several years.

In 1992, police were reexamining evidence, and asked Walter Ogrod to come and speak with them.  At the time of Barbara Jean’s murder, Water was living across the street from her, in a house with a friend of Barbara Jean.  Walter admitted to seeing Barbara Jean the afternoon she died, as Barbara Jean had come to the house looking for her friend to play with, and Walter answered the door.  Walter did not know where her friend was but sent her to ask her friend’s mother.  Walter said that was the last time he saw Barbara Jean, as he went upstairs.  

The detectives to whom Walter was talking notices some holes in his story and questioned him further, resulting in Walter breaking down and crying convulsively.  The detectives took a break and before they could resume asking questions, Walter said he had something he wanted to confess.  Before allowing him to speak, the detectives advised Walter of his Miranda rights, which Walter waived in writing.

Walter verbally confessed to crime.  He then signed a 16-page statement, written by the detectives, confessing to the crime.  By this time, Walter had been with the police for 14 hours.

Walter’s first trial ended in a mistrial.  The jury had planned to acquit Walter, however one juror changed their mind shortly before the verdict was read.  At his second trial in 1996, a jailhouse informant also testified, saying that Walter told him about the crime in detail.  At this second trial, Walter was found guilty and sentenced to death.

In 2005, Walter had a scheduled execution date, however it was stayed.

In 2003, author Thomas Lowenstein met with Walter and began researching his case.  In 2018, Thomas published a book based on his investigation into the case.  Thomas arrived at the conclusion that Walter was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted and that he was coerced by the detectives into giving a false confession.  Thomas noted how police first focused on Barbara Jean’s step-father, pushing him to give a confession.  Additionally, Thomas discovered that the jailhouse informant used to help secure a conviction for Walter, was notorious for getting inmates to confess to him, although he had been found to be lying in at least one other case.  Thomas also found it suspicious that Walter did not match the description of the suspect given by two witnesses, nor could either witness identify him as the man they saw.  Thomas also points out the complete lack of physical evidence to connect him to the crime.

In April 2018, it was announced that Walter’s case would be reviewed and that additional DNA testing would be performed on evidence in the case, including fingernail scrapings taken from Barbara Jean.  The DNA tests excluded Walter and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner sought to have Walter’s conviction overturned.  

Walter was scheduled to have a court date to determine if he would be released in March of 2020, however the coronavirus pandemic delayed the proceedings.  During that time, Walter came down with many of the symptoms of the coronavirus and Walter was transferred to a local hospital, where he was able to recover.

On Friday, June 5, 2020, Walter’s conviction was overturned by Common Please Court Judge Shelly Robins-New, citing critical flaws in the case, including key evidence being withheld by the police and the prosecutors.  Walter’s case has been downgraded to third degree murder and Walter was granted bail and released from prison.

Barbara Jean’s family supports the release of Walter, with the mother of Barbara Jean writing a letter in which she states that she believes Walter is completely innocent.  Pray for Barbara Jean’s family.

Pray for Walter and for his family.

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