HomeNewsDA's Conviction Integrity Unit wants judge to vacate Walter Ogrod's conviction

DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit wants judge to vacate Walter Ogrod’s conviction

The District Attorney’s Office is asking a Common Pleas Court judge to vacate the conviction and sentence for Walter Ogrod, who is on death row for the 1988 murder of a 4-year-old Castor Gardens girl.

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Ogrod, 55, is due in court on March 27. If the judge agrees with the DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit that Ogrod was wrongfully convicted, he could be freed.

At the request of Ogrod’s lawyers, the DA’s office reviewed evidence and determined that he is “likely innocent.”

The Conviction Integrity Unit determined that prosecutors knew or should have known that Barbara Jean Horn died of asphyxia, not by blows from a weight bar, as was alleged at trial. In addition, the CIU believes the jailhouse informants used at trial colluded for favorable treatment in their own cases. The unit ruled that Ogrod’s confession was false and unreliable. And it noted that the descriptions of men seen carrying a box on the day Barbara Jean’s body was found did not resemble and were smaller than the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Ogrod.

Barbara Jean Horn was playing outside on the 7200 block of Rutland St. on July 12, 1988, when she disappeared. Her naked and battered body was found later in a plastic bag stuffed in a cardboard television box put out in the trash nearby on the 1400 block of St. Vincent St.

The case remained unsolved for four years, and Robert Stack ran a story on Unsolved Mysteries.

Police arrested Ogrod in 1992, after re-interviewing him and other neighbors. He lived across the street from Barbara Jean, who lived with her mom, Sharon, and stepfather, John Fahy.

Ogrod, a bakery delivery driver at the time of his arrest, signed a confession after being interrogated at the Roundhouse, admitting he lured Barbara Jean into the basement of his home at 7244 Rutland St. by offering her chocolate candy. Ogrod tried to sexually assault Barbara Jean and, when she screamed, hit her over the head with an iron bar from a weight-lifting set.

At his 1993 trial, Ogrod was almost found not guilty, but a juror  —  retired fireman Alfred Szewczak, of Fishtown  —  changed his mind at the last second. Because there were only 11 votes for an acquittal, a mistrial was granted.

In 1996, Ogrod went on trial again. This time, a jury convicted him of murder and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse after less than two hours of deliberation and sentenced him to die. The key testimony came from a jailhouse snitch who, Ogrod’s lawyers allege, received made-up information from John Hall, nicknamed “The Monsignor” for his incredible ability to elicit confessions from fellow inmates in major cases.

Ogrod appealed, arguing in part that police detectives coerced his confession and his attorney was ineffective.

The state Supreme Court, though, upheld the conviction and death sentence in 2003. Then-District Attorney Lynne Abraham said, “We are gratified by the court’s decision to uphold the conviction and death penalty. The murder of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn was especially brutal, and justice was done in this case.”

Then-Gov. Ed Rendell signed Ogrod’s death warrant in 2005.

Court documents show that Ogrod’s prosecutor in the 1996 retrial, Judy Rubino, agrees that he should receive a new trial. ••

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