In a sworn statement filed with the court on Tuesday, Sharon Fahy, whose 4-year-old daughter, Barbara Jean Horn, was murdered in 1988, asked the court to swiftly show mercy to Walter Ogrod, 55, who has spent 23 years on death row for the crime. “There is no question in my mind that Mr. Ogrod is innocent and that he should be released from prison immediately,” she wrote.
Ogrod’s attorneys are urging Judge Shelley Robins New, who is presiding over the case, to schedule a remote hearing this month to rule on Ogrod’s innocence claim. That hearing is currently set for June 5.
With the novel coronavirus spreading across the country and into correctional institutions, June may be too late, Ogrod’s attorneys have argued. In mid-March, Ogrod began to display COVID-19 symptoms, including a 106-degree fever, a cough, and difficulty breathing. Despite a court order, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has refused to transport him to an outside facility for testing and treatment. (That order was later vacated on jurisdictional grounds.)
Eight prisoners and six guards at State Correctional Institute Phoenix, where Ogrod is incarcerated, have tested positive for the deadly disease. The facility is about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
In 1996, Ogrod was sentenced to die for Horn’s death. The case against him was based on a confession he gave after hours of interrogation (which he immediately recanted) and testimony from a jailhouse informant. No physical evidence connected him to the crime.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner reopened the case for review in 2018 and in February said he believed that Ogrod was “likely innocent.” He asked the Court of Common Pleas to vacate his death sentence, citing false testimony, prosecutorial misconduct, and junk scientific evidence used to convict Ogrod.
After learning of the errors in the case against Ogrod, Fahy wrote it was “extremely painful” to find out “what I had been told about what happened to my daughter was not even correct.”
“I am sad and angry to find out 32 years later that key evidence was withheld from me, my family, and the courts,” Fahy said. She added, “I am angry that the person who took my daughter’s life is likely walking free.”
Fahy, through her attorney, declined an interview request from The Appeal.
Last month, Robins New declined to move up the hearing because her court was not scheduled to be in session for most of May because of a pre-planned trip abroad. Additionally, her clerk said she only hears criminal matters on Fridays and has no free time before her trip, according to Tuesday’s filing. Robins New has not responded to communications sent by Ogrod’s attorneys since March 16.