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Pennsylvania prison defies order to release death row inmate for coronavirus testing

Pennsylvania prison defies order to release death row inmate for coronavirus testing
Prison officials in Pennsylvania have defied an order to release death row inmate Walter Ogrod, who prosecutors have said is likely innocent, for COVID-19 after he has exhibited symptoms. File Photo courtesy of attorneys for Walter Ogrod

March 23 (UPI) -- Prison officials in Pennsylvania have defied a judge's order to take a death row inmate to be tested for COVID-19.

Lawyers for the Department of Corrections challenged the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas' jurisdiction to interfere with prison system operations after they ruled last week that Walter Ogrod, 55, should be transferred to a local hospital for testing and treatment.

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They said that Ogrod is being adequately monitored at State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County and treated in prison medical facilities.

"Two medical doctors employed by the Department of Corrections have recently reviewed Mr. Ogrod's condition, have conferred with each other and have found absolutely no indication for testing Mr. Ogrod for COVID-19 at this time," attorney Timothy A. Holmes said.

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One of Ogrod's attorneys, James Rollins, said his legal team is "deeply troubled" by the Department of Corrections' refusal to allow their client to be tested and described its argument as a "legal technicality."

"There is no legal or moral position that can support a failure to test Mr. Ogrod for COVID-19," said Rollins. "Given the unprecedented circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including limited access to courts across the Commonwealth, the Court's order was a proper exercise of the Court's emergency authority."

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Ogrod has had symptoms consistent with COVID-19, including cough, difficulty breathing and a 106-degree fever.

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He was placed on death row after being convicted of assaulting and killing a 4-year-old girl in 1988 and in February the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office filed briefs in court saying Ogrod is "likely innocent" and the conviction was based on flawed evidence.

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

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