Exoneree Walter Ogrod, in his own words

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Walter Ogrod walked out of prison on June 5. Ogrod, 56, spent nearly a quarter-century on death row for the 1988 killing of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn, which remains unsolved. His trial involved a false confession, jailhouse informants and evidence withheld from his defense attorney.

Ogrod was one of 25 people profiled in Injustice Watch’s “Unrequited Innocence” series, which examined cases where people who were likely innocent were sentenced to death and have not been exonerated. Ogrod is so far the only subject of that series to be exonerated. In one of his first interviews since he was released, he spoke with Injustice Watch about his interrogation, his experience in prison, and his new life as a free man.

Editor’s note: Ogrod’s comments have been condensed and edited for clarity. This article contains some graphic language.

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On the police interrogation that ended in a false confession

I had been up since 8 [a.m.] that Saturday. Maybe just before noon on Sunday I called the detectives–see they came to my house a few days earlier. The landlord got the card from them.

They said it was only going to take an hour. I got there at 1:30 [p.m.], they told me to sit in the little waiting area. I must have been waiting there at least an hour. I start drifting off. I say I’m going, that I’m sleepy and I don’t want to crash on my way home.

They put me in the interrogation room, detectives Martin Devlin and Paul Worrell. They start, at least for the next hour, asking for basic information. Where I live, why’d you move.

They asked me what did I remember about the case, what did I remember happening that day. [This was almost four years after Barbara Jean’s body was found.] I told them I came back from work, I didn’t see no kids. I see Mrs. Green who lived there. I asked why it was so quiet. She said the older kids, they took all the young kids to the local rec center for the pool out there, which they usually do.

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Walter Ogrod: Mentally-disabled man gives confession to detectives with tainted record

Four years after the naked and battered body of Barbara Jean Horn was found in a trash bag in Philadelphia, the police had made no arrests despite having a series of suspects.

I told them I went to the store, came back. Some time later, I seen Mr. Fahy come to the door asking if I’d seen Barbara Jean. He was in a panic. He said maybe she was at a friend’s house.

They asked a lot about her stepfather, how he was to the mother and the child. I thought he was her actual father, I didn’t know. They said they heard she didn’t want her daughter coming to the house. The Greens were like vagabonds, they were unkempt, they were selling drugs.

They asked what did we hear. I told them we heard about the box being found, but they’re not sure if the child was her. Later on that night we heard it was her.

Then they start asking what do you remember reading in papers and on TV. Something seemed unusual, but then again, they wanted to know what was going on, what I had known. I got a weird feeling, but it wasn’t until after they said the interview was done, I go for the door, and they slam it shut on me.

They said, “We believe you done it. We’re keeping you here all night.” They kept locking the door. They handcuffed me to the chair. I asked for a phone call for a lawyer. I said I have a right to a phone call, they said no, no, we’ll get to it later. It went all night like that.

They started putting pictures of her body in front of my face. They didn’t go like in order, they kept skipping from one part to another. Devlin, he was the creative one. Worrell was sometimes making suggestions, like “How could this happen when you said this earlier?”

I’m dozing off all the time. They shake me awake, give me coffee. They made a sketch of the alley to my house [near where Barbara Jean’s body was found.] “The person was supposed to go this way,” he said. He takes my hand, goes straight down the alley and makes a right. “This is the way.”

If they’d seen me, why not arrest my ass earlier?

Walter and Greg Ogrod

Greg Ogrod

Walter Ogrod (left) with his brother, Greg on July 8, 2020.

Devlin was getting mad. “Then you went down this way.” I was so dead tired I didn’t know what was going on. Then they were asking questions about the body, or how I got it in the house. Mrs. Green was in the house, then she wasn’t. “You can’t decide whether someone’s in the house or not,” they said. They asked me what’d I do with the blood. There was no blood spatter in that house.

They claimed I wanted to take her downstairs and wanted to play doctor with her. In those homes out there, you could easily hear everything. You could hear every sound through the vents. They said I made her kneel so she could give me a blowjob. They said she started crying so I took this weight bar and swung it. Impossible. If you put your arm up, you’d hit the rafters an inch above your wrist. There’s no way I could have swung a bar going down the way they have it. No possible way. Even if I’m on the first floor, I still couldn’t do it there.

We took a break around midnight. They gave me some food. We took a couple flights upstairs to the room equipped to take fingerprints. They take five, six sets of fingerprints. They kept throwing pictures of her body in my face. “You’re sick, we want to get you help,” they said.

Toward the end, toward the signing, I say I want an attorney. They were trying to get me to sign a paper waiving my rights. They said they’d get me an attorney but you gotta sign this first. They were messing with my head real bad. They said, “If you don’t sign this confession, we’re going to take you downstairs and put you with a bunch of n****** and say you killed a bunch of n***** children, and see what happens.”

A few times I had managed to try to get out to try to use the phone but they grabbed me. I’m so out of it and all, I’m just, by that time I must have been up 48 hours straight. They kept on badgering, badgering. They kinda had me believing it. My autism, my Asperger’s, I had no sleep. I did not get out until 7 the next morning. I was thrown in the holding cells.

On hearing the jury sentence him to death

When they said death I kind of like, just froze there holding the table, thinking I was going to fall over. It hit me, but I didn’t feel nothing. It took me awhile. Then I thought, just get it over with. I don’t feel like waiting 20-something years like some of these people who lose their appeal.

On life on death row at State Correctional Institution – Greene

Over the years, different superintendents always take out their frustrations on us. In ’98 we called it ‘the massacre of ourselves.’ One superintendent had us strip ourselves of everything. All our legal work was shipped off or destroyed.

You’re in your cell 22 hours a day. You get two hours out Monday through Friday. A dog kennel gets more space than what we got for exercise.

The guards were complete assholes. There were some decent ones, but mostly complete assholes. Charles Graner, [who was convicted of war crimes at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq] he was a guard at Greene. He beat prisoners.

On the long wait of his appeal

I thought, if anything is going to happen, I thought I was going to get life. Some attorneys, they just want to get you life and that’s it, for their resume.

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Walter Ogrod walks off death row

In an emotional hearing Friday, a Philadelphia judge vacated Ogrod’s death sentence and convictions for the 1996 murder of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn. He walked free after 28 years behind bars.

It’s too slow. You sit in your cell doing nothing. You just go nuts. It feels like the walls are closing in on you. At the time making a phone call, the charge was outrageous and to reverse charges it’s double that. My friend had a $5,000 phone bill.

On the June 5 hearing that led to his release and exoneration

When [assistant district attorney Carrie Wood] started crying, that kind of got to me. She got my case the day she was hired there and she’s been on it since day one. To hear it like that… When she was continuing to cry it just felt weird. I can’t even really describe it, to hear a DA crying to any exoneree. I don’t think any DA has ever done anything like that. That wasn’t some phony thing. She was really, it was getting to her, all the stuff she’s seen. How dare they do this to an innocent man, how dare they do this to this mother. I just wanted to talk to her and tell her to calm down and all.

On walking out of prison

I loved it. I loved it. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I just had to get out of there. After the hearing, I went back to my cell on my block. The superintendent had called down and told them to get me the fuck out of there. I had an hour and a half. I had to rush. I tried to leave some stuff for someone to use, a typewriter.

Rocky

Walter Ogrod

Walter Ogrod at the Rocky Statue in Philadelphia.

On his new life

I’m still getting used to this iPhone, that’s for sure. I’m way behind putting stuff on my Facebook. I’m behind. I got a bum leg. If I walk for a while the pain goes into the other leg. A lot of the pain went away when I got the bed I’m sleeping on. I want to get rid of [the pain] so I can enjoy what’s left of the summer.

I want to do advocacy, to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania. It needs to be done, especially in Pennsylvania.

After 28 years, you have no idea how much is still burning in me. I want to see everyone connected to my case, the detectives, especially the DAs and the coroner, I want to see them punished. I want to go after everyone that had a part in this. I want to make it so expensive for the city that this has to change.

It’s painful, but I gotta use this pain to help other people.

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