A Philadelphia court on Saturday ordered that Walter Ogrod, a man on death row for a 1988 killing that authorities now say he “likely” did not commit, be taken to an outside hospital for testing and treatment of coronavirus symptoms that he developed this month.
Ogrod, 55, has had symptoms of infection since March 11, when he was taken to a prison infirmary with a cough and fever. He is housed at the State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County. Until Saturday the county was home to Pennsylvania’s highest concentration of coronavirus cases.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office supported the emergency motion. Earlier this month, the office asked a judge to vacate Ogrod’s conviction; the next scheduled court date on the matter has been postponed at least until June.
Ogrod’s attorney, James Rollins, said in a statement that he was grateful for the order, issued by the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in response to an emergency request filed by Ogrod’s legal team last week.
“To make an innocent man remain even one extra day on death row is unjust. To leave him on death row showing symptoms of COVID-19 without adequate medical treatment would be unconscionable," Rollins said.
Ogrod was convicted in 1996 of murdering 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn, who lived across the street from him at the time in the city’s Castor section. But over time, holes emerged in the case. In court documents filed earlier this month, DA Larry Krasner’s office said Ogrod was convicted based on flawed, hidden, or tainted evidence, including a confession prosecutors believe was coerced by two homicide detectives, and testimony from jailhouse informants whom prosecutors no longer find credible.
Ogrod was taken to a prison infirmary with a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing. He was placed in isolation, according to the transfer request filed by his attorneys, after which his fever spiked to 106 degrees.
He returned to his cell on Monday after his fever relented, but according to the filing, “he is still coughing and having difficulty breathing, which Mr. Ogrod reports leaves him feeling like he is breathing through a wet sponge.”