The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office believes Walter Ogrod, who was sentenced to death 23 years ago for the attempted sexual assault and murder of a 4-year-old girl, is “likely innocent,” according to court documents filed Saturday.
The office, led by former defense attorney and criminal justice reform advocate Larry Krasner, has asked that the court vacate Ogrod’s conviction and sentence, calling it a “gross miscarriage of justice.”
“Ogrod was wrongfully imprisoned for nearly three decades on death row – and all agree his incarceration constitutes cruel and unusual punishment,” wrote Patricia Cummings, the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit supervisor.
Ogrod’s case was one of 24 featured in Injustice Watch’s “Unrequited Innocence” series last year, which examined people sentenced to death who have not been fully exonerated despite compelling evidence of innocence. Since then, Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed has been granted a new hearing and Oklahoma inmate Karl Fontenot has been released from prison.
Ogrod was not considered a suspect in the 1988 murder of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn until three years after her body was found. He had no criminal record and didn’t match the physical description of the man seen carrying the box Horn was found in. There were no signs of sexual assault on her body.
Ogrod was described by acquaintances as unable to make decisions for himself and easily manipulated due to a mental disability. He confessed to the murder and attempted assault after an unrecorded interrogation by detectives Martin Devlin and Paul Worrell, who obtained false confessions that led to exonerations in at least two other cases.
His retrial (the first ended in a mistrial) included a notorious jailhouse informant known as “the Monsignor” due to his apparent knack for hearing confessions. Ogrod was convicted and sentenced to death in 1996.
Cummings wrote Saturday that Devlin and Worrell “utilized inherently coercive tactics and inaccurate information to obtain a false and unreliable confession from Ogrod; and jailhouse informants colluded to provide false and unreliable testimony against Ogrod in an effort to procure favorable treatment in their own criminal prosecutions.”
No credible evidence remains that can prove Ogrod killed Horn, which means Horn’s real murderer remains unknown and may have committed other crimes, Cummings wrote.
Cummings and Ogrod’s attorney Samuel Angell did not respond to requests for comment.
Ogrod is scheduled to appear in court on March 27, when Judge Shelley Robins New is expected to decide whether to vacate his conviction.