Though Walter Ogrod confessed to killing of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn in 1988, evidence showed that he didn't commit the crime, and a judge overturned his conviction Friday.
On Friday, NBC10 was there as Ogrod was reunited with family in the parking lot of a Wawa near SCI Phoenix in Montgomery County. Judge Shelley Robins New vacated Ogrod's conviction and death sentence, in a Zoom hearing, attorneys said in a statement.
Ogrod is out on bail right now, but Philly District Attorney Larry Krasner expects a judge to formally dismiss the case in the next few weeks. While his release brought peace to his family, it raises the question: if Ogrod didn't kill Horn, who did?
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Horn was found dead in a cardboard television box after going missing from her family's home on Rutland Street in Northeast Philadelphia. Her death, and the errors in the case, became a media sensation, spurring countless articles, blog posts and even an episode of "Death Row Stories," narrated by Susan Sarandon.
After four years, detectives charged Ogrod, Horn's neighbor, and coerced him into confessing. But he later recanted the confession. And five eyewitnesses who saw a man placing the cardboard box on the street said he didn't look like Ogrod.
The verdict at a first trial was 11-1 in favor to acquit him. A second trial, where he was found guilty, relied on a jailhouse informant whose testimony proved to be unreliable. It was one of several cases the DA's Conviction Integrity Unit has re-investigated, and not the first involving detectives Paul Worrell and Marty Devlin. They and the prosecutor from the trial did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Prosecutors claimed Ogrod beat Horn with a weight bar. But her injuries showed she died of asphyxiation, not from blows to her head. And a sample of male DNA found at the crime scene did not match Ogrod's, his attorneys said in January.
"This innocent man and his family lost almost 30 years that they should have spent together," attorney James Rollins said. “Today Mr. Ogrod has been given the opportunity to put his unfair trial and harrowing incarceration behind him and begin to create a new, better life. It is a profound moment, filled with happiness and hope. Not only for Mr. Ogrod, but also for other innocent, wrongfully convicted individuals."
Krasner says police got the wrong guy.
"Justice deferred is a really bad thing," he said. "Justice denied, which is what we had before, is even worse."
Krasner would not say if his office is now looking for a new suspect.
"Let me just say we take our obligation very seriously and we look carefully at all options," he said Friday. "Both in terms of seeing if we can be of assistance in identifying the actual perpetrator, but also in terms of some level of accountability for things that were done in the past."
The now-former convict told NBC's Lester Holt last month that he contracted COVID-19 while in prison. Horn's mother, Sharon Fahy, filed a brief last month, urging the courts to release Ogrod.
"My daughter is never coming home but I wanted justice for her, not simply a closed case with an innocent person in jail. Two families have already been destroyed," she wrote.
Outside the D.A.'s office, she told NBC10 that it was time for investigators to start over looking for Barbara Jean's killer.