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A coerced confession, falsified evidence and a jailhouse informant with every reason to lie left an innocent man, Walter Ogrod, on death row for 28 years.
And it let the killer of a 4-year-old Philadelphia girl, Barbara Jean Horn, evade justice in the case.
In a new, one-hour Dateline special airing on Friday, Aug. 13 at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT on NBC, Ogrod speaks to Lester Holt about his experiences in his first network television interview.
The special also features an exclusive national broadcast interview with Barbara Jean’s parents, Sharon and John Fahy and an interview with journalist Tom Lowenstein, whose decades of work investigating Barbara-Jean’s murder and Ogrod's case are considered pivotal in ending his wrongful incarceration.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, whose office has prominently worked to support exonerations in cases of police misconduct, also spoke to Holt about his plans to restore Philadelphians' trust in the city’s criminal justice system and correct decades of police and prosecutorial misconduct.
In July 1988, Barbara Jean Horn's body was discovered in a television box on a curb a few blocks from her home. A resident and and several of his neighbors reported saw a young man carting the box around. According to Lowenstein's 2004 reporting for the Philadelphia City Paper, when police tracked the box to a nearby house, they found a possible murder weapon, child pornography, handcuffs and a man — not Ogrod — matching the description of the one seen carrying the box with Barbara Jean's body.
In 1992, the case was turned over to a special unit of the Philadelphia police charged with cold and other difficult-to-solve cases, and Det. Martin Devlin and his partner quickly narrowed in on the Fahy's former neighbor, Walter Ogrod — though he did not match the description of the man other neighbors saw with the box. After an interrogation by detectives, to which he was subjected after a reported 30-hour shift at his truck-driving job, Ogrod signed a 16-page narrative confession and was charged with sexual assault and murder in the death of Barbara-Jean. (The detectives, now retired, have since been repeatedly investigated by Krasner's office for coerced confessions, leading to several other overturned wrongful convictions.)
At his first trial in 1993, the jury voted to acquit, but, as the verdict was being read, one juror objected and the judge declared a mistrial. At his second trial in 1996, prosecutors presented a jailhouse informant as witness, later discredited who claimed that Ogrod had confessed. Ogrod was convicted and sentenced to death.
In the years since, Ogrod's lawyers also found evidence that prosecutors at his trials knew that Barbara-Jean Horn had died as a result of asphyxiation, not a blow to the head, and that the weightlifting equipment Ogrod's confession stated he'd used in the commission of the murder did not match the wound on her head. Philadelphia prosecutors had nonetheless presented evidence to the jury about the wrong cause of death and the incorrect weapon, and withheld the true evidence from Ogrod's lawyers, the jury and Barbara Jean's family.
That, along with DNA results since developed from evidence collected from Barbara Jean's body that point to an as-yet unidentified man, were what convinced Sharon Fahy of Ogrod's innocence.
"We have been lied to when this first happened and we finally have the truth, which is hard, but that's all we wanted was the truth," she told CNN in 2020.
Unfortunately, after Ogrod's release in 2020, Philadelphia police told NBC affiliate WCAU in Philadelphia that they were too busy with current cases to reopen the botched investigation into the murder of Barbara Jean Horn.
Dateline NBC's "The Investigation" is part of NBC News’ and MSNBC's week-long "Justice for All" series featuring in-depth and exclusive coverage on wrongful convictions and the state of the American criminal justice system.
Reports will air across TODAY, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, NBC News NOW, NBCNews.com and MSNBC.
Watch Dateline's "The Investigation" Friday, Aug. 13 at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT on NBC.
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