June 5, 2020
Court Order Follows Commonwealth’s Finding that Mr. Ogrod Is “Likely Innocent;” Release Supported By Victim’s Mother and Others
Philadelphia – Following an extensive investigation by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) finding Walter Ogrod “likely innocent” and a hearing today, Judge Shelley Robins New of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas vacated Mr. Ogrod’s conviction and death sentence. Also today, the Court reduced the charges against Mr. Ogrod and set bail to permit him to be released based on clear and convincing evidence that he did not murder 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn in 1988.
In addition to support from the district attorney, the child’s mother filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the court expressing her belief in Mr. Ogrod’s innocence and urging his release. The judge today threw out Mr. Ogrod’s conviction based on prosecutorial misconduct and newly discovered evidence showing his innocence. Mr. Ogrod was released after spending nearly 30 years in prison, most of those on Pennsylvania’s death row.
Nelson Mullins Boston partner James Rollins, one of Mr. Ogrod’s lawyers, stated: “The brutal injustice of Walter Ogrod’s case is impossibly tragic. This innocent man and his family lost almost 30 years that they should have spent together. Instead, that irreplaceable time together is gone, lost to a system that keeps making the same mistakes.
“This is a case where no forensic evidence tied Mr. Ogrod to the crime, where eyewitness descriptions didn’t match Mr. Ogrod, and where police coerced a false confession from Mr. Ogrod, which got many of the facts incorrect about the crime he allegedly committed. The state presented false testimony, unconstitutionally withheld exculpatory evidence, and relied on unreliable jailhouse informant testimony to convict an innocent man of a brutal murder.
“Today Mr. Ogrod has been given the opportunity to put his unfair trial and harrowing incarceration behind him and begin to create a new, better life. It is a profound moment, filled with happiness and hope, not only for Mr. Ogrod, but also for other innocent, wrongfully convicted individuals. There is hope that the system will learn from Mr. Ogrod’s case, and there is hope that Barbara Jean Horn’s real killer will be brought to justice.”
Walter Ogrod: An Innocent Man on Pennsylvania’s Death Row
Walter Ogrod is an innocent man who has spent nearly three decades in prison – nearly all of it on death row – for a crime he did not commit. He was convicted based on unreliable scientific evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, due process violations, and false testimony.
After a careful and thorough review of the evidence in this case, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) concluded that Mr. Ogrod is likely innocent, that no credible evidence links him to the murder for which he was convicted and sentenced to death, and that his continued incarceration constitutes an ongoing miscarriage of justice amounting to cruel and unusual punishment.
All interested parties — the prosecution, the defense, the victim’s mother, the trial prosecutor, and Mr. Ogrod’s trial attorney — agree that Mr. Ogrod was wrongfully convicted. The prosecution and Mr. Ogrod’s appellate lawyers agree that his conviction and death sentence should be vacated without delay.
Unreliable Scientific Evidence
Mr. Ogrod’s conviction and death sentence were based on false, unreliable, and incomplete evidence. The jury that convicted Mr. Ogrod and sentenced him to death heard many “facts” during the trial that were not accurate or reliable.
Had all of this favorable evidence been disclosed, Mr. Ogrod could have directly undermined the scientific evidence regarding cause of death, called into question the competence of the investigation, exposed his supposed confession as false and the jailhouse informants as serial liars, and proven his innocence.
The Lack of Evidence at Trial
Although there was no forensic or eyewitness evidence connecting Mr. Ogrod to the crime, he was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder. However, five eyewitnesses who saw a man carrying the box later left on the street and found to contain Barbara Jean Horn’s body provided descriptions that differed in every vital way from Mr. Ogrod.
Police Secured A False Confession From Mr. Ogrod
Mr. Ogrod’s police confession, obtained after at least eight (and as many as 16) hours of interrogation from a sleep-deprived, cognitively limited, and highly suggestible Mr. Ogrod, has been proven to be false and unreliably obtained. During his police confession, Mr. Ogrod provided inaccurate information about every major aspect of the crime, including the manner of death.
The country’s leading experts in interrogations and false confessions concur that Mr. Ogrod’s condition and the circumstances under which his statement was elicited are highly problematic and constitute a perfect storm for false confession.
Unreliable Jailhouse Informant Testimony
Documents in the Commonwealth’s possession at the time of trial, which were not disclosed, demonstrate that one of the informants against Mr. Ogrod, Jay Wolchansky, had persistent and severe mental health problems that compromised his ability to perceive and truthfully and accurately recount information. Despite knowing that, the trial prosecutor called Wolchansky as a witness and had him testify under oath that Mr. Ogrod confessed the crime to Wolchansky.
Mr. Ogrod’s Case: Common Themes in Wrongful Convictions
Mr. Ogrod’s case has many of the same problems commonly found in other cases of innocent people who are wrongfully convicted. These include lack of evidence, unreliable scientific evidence, false testimony, prosecutorial misconduct, false confession, use of unreliable jailhouse informants, and other problems. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) correctly concluded that Mr. Ogrod is likely innocent, and that no credible evidence links him to the murder. Accordingly, he should be released immediately.
For more information, or to speak to Jim Rollins, one of Mr. Ogrod’s attorneys, please contact Tristin Aaron at firstname.lastname@example.org, (718) 938-4078.
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