Thursday, December 29, 2005

Walter Ogrod: Innocent and sentenced to death

I recently received correspondence from Walter Ogrod, a prisoner on Pennsylvania's death row. Walter sent me a copy of a two-part Philadelphia City Paper series on his case from June, 2004, so last night I sat down and read the articles. Although we abolitionists certainly know that there are more innocent people on death row, it's still stunning to read the individual stories.

You can read all the dirty details in the articles, but here's the basic breakdown. Walter was convicted and sentenced to death in 1996 for the 1988 murder of a four-year-old girl in his NE Philly neighborhood. No physical evidence linked him to the crime. A witness who spoke with the killer (not knowing at the time that he was the killer) described someone 5-8 inches shorter than Walter and with different color hair.

Walter was convicted in part by a confession he claimed was coerced out of him by two Philadelphia detectives. He visited the police station after working an all-night shift and had been awake a total of 30 hours when he made this so-called confession.

At trial, the defense shot holes in the case. Walter was seconds away from walking away a free man from this nightmare, but one juror blurted out, "I disagree," as the jury foreman was reading the "not guilty" verdict. The judge declared a mistrial, and in the interim between the mistrial and the retrial, a jailhouse snitch emerged to weave a tall tale about Walter's connection to the crime.

You can read all the horrifying details here:
Snitch Work Part 1
Snitch Work Part 2

I'm currently reading Executed on a Technicality by David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston, which has similar stories of breakdowns in the criminal justice system. I can only read so much at a time because eventually I just can't take it. A copy of a Star Wars book is always nearby for lighter reading. Reading about these injustices can start to weigh on you after awhile.

15 Comments:

At 3:45 PM, Blogger David Elliot said...

We just picked up on your Walter Ogrod blog over at Abolish the Death Penalty. Good job!

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger The Central Pennsylvania Abolitionist said...

Thanks, David. I hoped someone might pick it up. This case is absurd!

 
At 11:52 PM, Blogger marjo moore said...

great story. i saw nick yarris speak about ogrod sometime ago and i believe yarris said he was the one who kick-started the paper's effort to do the piece you speak of.

 
At 4:19 PM, Blogger The Central Pennsylvania Abolitionist said...

Walter may be becoming a cause-celebre among the guys on PA's death row. I found out about Walter from another guy on the row.

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger tlow said...

I wrote that Ogrod article (and heard about this blog from Ogrod), and just wanted to pass along a little update: Ogrod has gotten a great new legal team and has a good chance at a new (and hopefully time, fair) trial. Also, just a small note about the origins of the article: I knew nothing about Ogrod or his case when I first heard from him. I assumed he was guilty. Nick Yarris definitely "kick-started" the whole thing by putting Ogrod in touch with me--without saying a word about Ogrod's guilt or innocence-- but it wasn't an investigation of a wrongful conviction by a newspaper that he kickstarted. He got one freelancer looking for a guilty guy to talk to Ogrod. Nick clearly knew what he was doing, but I had no idea what I was getting into, did not set out to prove anyone innocent, and did not have any organization behind me trying to prove anything.

 
At 12:25 AM, Blogger The Central Pennsylvania Abolitionist said...

Tom, thanks for checking in. It is an incredible story, and we're grateful to hear that Walter has good legal help. Let's plan to be in touch. I have your contact info and will touch base soon.

 
At 2:26 PM, Anonymous justic said...

Well I think Walter knew a little too much about Barbara Jean and her family that he never told the police about..especially the part about her knocking on his door and him letting her in even though her 5 year old friend wasn't there.

 
At 5:55 AM, Blogger landshark said...

I knew Walter at the time of the killing. I worked at the pizzeria at Cottman and Castor. He was one troubled dude. He was always distracted, and didn't even seem to know where he just came from, or where he was going.

I have always been convinced of his guilt, and have always despised him for it.

Recently, on a whim, I checked to see if he had been executed, and came across these articles. Now I am not 100% convinced, and would like to hear from those that have been studying the case. I always wondered why it took 4 years to find a guy right under their nose.

On one hand, I knew this guy was sick, but in the back of my mind, I never really thought he was smart enough to get away with something like this for so long.

I now have a pretty serious interest in this case, and would like to hear from anyone that has studied it closer than I have (in just the past few weeks).

My e-mail is landshark3371@comcast.net

 
At 5:59 AM, Blogger landshark said...

For the record, I am very much FOR the death penalty, especially in cases involving the murder of kids. My interest in this case is that my car was parked within 30 feet of where this little girl was found in a box. And if Ogrod didn't do it, that means some sick SOB got away with it, and I want to know who it was.

 
At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am all for the death of Ogrod this young girl was my cousin if all of you went through what my family went through you would see that this case needs to be completely put to rest OGROD IS GUILTY!!!!!!!!!

 
At 9:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have followed this story with great sorrow. I live in NE Philly and have children, so Barbara and her family have always been in our prayers. However, one must consider the hysteria for justice.
I recently came across someone who knew Walter, and there is no doubt that he is a disturbed man, but there are no witnesses. Police do force confessions, judges want to be re-elected and force convictions. The jail house testimony of informants, who want early release from prison should not be permitted in a courtroom. Please link the DNA to the evidence, and if the shoe fits, then let Ogrod wear it. This crime is a horror, but justice should be impartial. The only eye-witness described Raymond Sheehan. We know Raymond is a very sick dude, why is he still alive?

 
At 3:04 PM, Anonymous toml said...

To Landshark, i just saw your comment--you (or anyone else with questions) can contact me at tomlowenstein@aol.com.
To Barbara Jean's cousin--I am so sorry for what you and your family have been through. I hope all of you are doing ok. I know how much this sucks.

 
At 11:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ALSO AM A COUSIN OF BARBARA JEAN AND WATCHED THIS TRIAL AND HEARD THE TESTIMONY FROM WALTER OGRODS CONFESSION.ONLY THE PERSON WHO DID THIS WOULD KNOW HOW BARBARA JEAN WAS MURDERED AND OGRODS CONFESSION WAS PROOF ENOUGH.EXAMINING HIM IN THE COURTROOM,HE APPEARED SLOW WITTED AND SOMEWHAT SLOW.HE DID NOT LOOK LIKE THE COMPOSITE PICTURE BECAUSE MOST PEOPLE CANNOT GIVE GOOD DESCRIPTIONS OF ANYONE.VERY FEW COMPOSITES TURNED OUT TO BE RESEMBLANCES SO DON'T USE THAT AS HIS INNOCENCE.AT THE FUNERAL,I WAS PULLED OVER BY THE FBI IN FRONT OF MY FAMILY BECAUSE THEY SAID I LOOKED LIKE THE SUSPECT.HOW DO YOU THINK THAT MADE ME FEEL.HE'S GUILTY SO STOP THE THEATRICS ALREADY.

 
At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would like to know if you folks who are anti-death penalty think anyone on death row is actually guilty. It's amazing how many people seem to rally around these convicted murderers and claim them to be innocent. I can understand yur view on the death penalty really I can, but I do not think all of these convicts are innocent. In the case of Walter Ogrod, you are al correct about one thing he is a troubled and bizarre person, but he did kill Barbara Jean. He admitted to it, his statement gave the weapon used, forensics showed that the wounds on her body fit the instrument he described. For those of you who ask for the DNA evidence there is no DNA evidence in the case. For those who want to know why it took so long to arrest him he abandoned his house across the street from where Barbara Jean lived in December of 1988 as the police were looking at another suspect. Walter when contacted by police again in 1992 during a reinvestigation volunteered to come to the police HQ and changed his initial statement from the 1st day of the investigation. When police questioned as to why his statements were so different he started crying and confessed to the murder. He is guilty. So again to those who want to abolish the death penalty go about it the right way argue points like "it's not right for anyone to kill anyone" or show that it adds no deterent to others whatever. Just don't claim the innocence of the guilty

 
At 4:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this article is old but I met the detectives while they were working on this case. Whether Ogrod is guilty or not is completely unknown to me. However I can say that Marty and Paul were 100% convinced in their own minds that they had the right guy. Personally, I think police can get tunnel vision and also fail to be objective once they start to fixate on a suspect. They complained that Ogrod was trying to use coercion and a long, tiring interrogation as a defense. I also met the juror who objected to the original verdict which caused the mistrial. His biggest complaint was the rest of the jury being more worried about getting the trial over with so they could go back to their lives and how they [the jury] were too concerned with how much they didn't like the detectives and the prosecutor, instead of being focused on the case itself.
I do not think we should be executing anyone without rock solid scientific evidence. Reasonable doubt is no longer what the standard should be set at. In this day and age it is not so difficult to find out whether someone was actually responsible for the crime or if it was target fixation, over zealous ego mania prosecution or relying too much on bad sketches or testimony from witnesses who are always in the area of a crime but rarely get questioned as a suspect themselves.
There have been too many people almost executed that have been freed by DNA and other newly discovered evidence to justify putting anyone else to death without reopening each file to look for any uninvestigated suspects, possible flaws and/or miscarriages of justice...Just in case the prosecution got it wrong. Which they have done, quite often. By this time, close to 400 acquitted, about half of them death row cases.
I do not trust witness testimony as sure as a witness could describe another target only to keep themselves from becoming suspect as was the case for a murdered woman's simple-minded handyman that her neighbor [the real criminal] directed the police toward. That handyman [sentenced to death] was released [if I remember correctly, after 30 years in prison], thank goodness. I also do not trust the jury system. Ogrod's trial is not the only time I have heard a juror speak of how deliberations were more focused on getting it over with, than with the important task at hand.
Point is, this system is killing innocent people while actual murderers are never found. Do I think Marty and Paul were capable of pulling a confession out of a confused, tired, mentally challenged person? Yes, they were smart enough and tenacious enough to want to do that.

 

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