Corrections department defies judge’s order to test ‘likely innocent’ death row inmate for COVID-19

Updated at 4:30 p.m., March 23:
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has refused to comply with a judge’s order to take death row inmate Walter Ogrod to a hospital and test him for coronavirus.

“The Department believes that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction to issue an Order for the Department or its employees to perform any act,” the department’s acting chief counsel Timothy Holmes wrote to Judge Leon Tucker on Saturday.

Two doctors with the department have reviewed Ogrod and found no basis for testing him, Holmes wrote.

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Unrequited Innocence

Original story:
A Philadelphia County judge ordered Saturday that death row inmate Walter Ogrod be moved to a hospital for testing after showing symptoms of the coronavirus COVID-19.

The order mandates that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections bring Ogrod to a hospital where he can receive “proper testing, care and treatment, including but not limited to testing for COVID-19.”  Ogrod will return to prison upon release from the hospital, according to the ruling.

“We are grateful that the court has ordered the Department of Corrections to allow Walter Ogrod to receive testing and treatment for possible COVID-19 outside of the prison,” wrote James Rollins, one of Ogrod’s attorney’s, in a statement.

Courtesy of Attorneys for Walter Ogrod

Walter Ogrod

“To make an innocent man remain even one extra day on death row is unjust,” Rollins added. “To leave him on death row showing symptoms of COVID-19 without adequate medical treatment would be unconscionable.”

The order comes over a week after Ogrod began showing symptoms associated with the new coronavirus. Ogrod was scheduled to have a hearing on March 27 in which prosecutors would ask for his release after almost three decades on death row. But court restrictions related to coronavirus caused the hearing to be postponed until June.

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Ogrod was convicted in 1996 for the murder and attempted sexual assault of a 4-year-old girl, as previously reported by Injustice Watch. Prosecutors in Philadelphia recently asked the court to release Ogrod because of a series of problems in his case, including questionable testimony from a jailhouse informant who had an “apparent knack for hearing confessions,” according to previous reporting by Injustice Watch.

The court has not yet ruled on a second motion from Ogrod’s lawyers asking for an expedited ruling on his innocence claim, drawing criticism from his legal team.

“Every day that Mr. Ogrod, an innocent man, spends in prison is a shameful injustice,” Rollins wrote in his statement. “He has been through enough. It is past time for him to be released from his wrongful incarceration.

John Seasly contributed reporting

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