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Philadelphia judge exonerates man who spent 23 years on death row

Walter Ogrod served 28 years in prison -- 23 years on death row -- for the death of Barbara Jean Horn. File Photo courtesy of attorneys for Walter Ogrod
Walter Ogrod served 28 years in prison -- 23 years on death row -- for the death of Barbara Jean Horn. File Photo courtesy of attorneys for Walter Ogrod

June 11 (UPI) -- A Philadelphia judge has fully exonerated a man who served nearly three decades in prison -- including 23 years on death row -- for the slaying of a 4-year-old girl.

Walter Ogrod's exoneration Wednesday came days after he was released from prison.

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Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker said the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office could drop the case against Ogrod, 55, without another trial.

Ogrod's lawyer, Andrew Gallo, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he's happy the case was resolved quickly. He said his client was "very pleased to have this chapter of his life behind him."

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The case is the third death row exoneration in Philadelphia since December, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said it's the 13th overall exoneration in his 2 1/2-year administration.

"Pursuing justice means righting past wrongs," Krasner said. "Grateful to the work of my office's Conviction Integrity Unit in supporting Walter Ogrod's 28-year journey to freedom."

The exoneration ends months of jostling between the court and Ogrod's attorneys, who sought to have an expedited hearing on his case after their client became ill with symptoms consistent with the coronavirus disease. His lawyers sought to have him released for testing and treatment.

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In February, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office filed briefs saying Ogrod was "likely innocent" of killing 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn and was convicted on flawed evidence, including a coerced confession and testimony from discredited jailhouse informants.

"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," James Rollins, one of Ogrod's attorneys, said earlier this month.

Sharon Fahy, Barbara Jean's mother, said last week she didn't believe Ogrod killed her daughter, adding that she's "angry that the person who took my daughter's life is likely walking free."

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A DPIC analysis indicates Philadelphia had more homicide exonerations in 2019 than any other city or county in the United States. The center -- which provides resources on capital punishment but doesn't take a position on the issue -- blamed the higher number of exonerations on a history of prosecutorial misconduct and Krasner's efforts to correct those abuses.

"Walter Ogrod's case is yet another reminder of what happens when corruption and disregard for the law become part of the culture of law enforcement. Six men have now been exonerated from Philadelphia's death row, and as in an overwhelming majority of the now 169 death-row exonerations in the U.S., every one of those cases involved some form of serious police or prosecutorial misconduct," DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham told UPI in an email.

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"These are not issues that can be resolved by tinkering around the edges of criminal law reform. They must be addressed head on. This case was rotten to the core, and until law enforcement and prosecutors are held accountable for their misconduct, and until the rot is systematically rooted out, we are certain to see continuing injustices of the type that occurred in Mr. Ogrod's case."

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