Walter Ogrod

Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania
Date of Crime:  July 12, 1988

Walter Ogrod was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of four-year-old Barbara Jean Horn. The murder occurred near her house at 7245 Rutland Street, close to Cottman Avenue. Four witnesses had seen a man carrying a TV box in which Horn's body was found. One of the witnesses, David Schectman, told police he'd interacted with the box carrying man for 11 minutes on St. Vincent St.

Two days after Horn's murder and again 11 days later, Schectman identified Raymond Sheehan from photo arrays as the man he saw carrying the box. However, Schectman also identified another neighborhood man as the box carrier. Sheehan had been suspected of the 1987 Frankford murder of 10-year-old Heather Coffin and would be convicted of it after DNA testing was done in 2003. Sheehan denied involvement in the Horn murder and was never charged with it.

In 1992, Walter Ogrod, who had lived across the street from Horn, signed a confession to the murder. However, by all accounts, Ogrod looked nothing like the man described by witnesses. Afterward, Ogrod claimed police coerced his confession. Schectman had described a man who was 5 to 8 inches shorter than Ogrod. He also knew Ogrod by sight, if not by name, before the murder, and never mentioned him to police.

At trial in 1993, the jury agreed to acquit Ogrod, believing his confession was coerced. However, just before the verdict was read, one juror stood up and said he did not agree with it. The judge declared a mistrial. Horn's stepfather, who believed Ogrod was guilty, knocked aside a bailiff and managed to punch Ogrod. The stepfather later said that the judge had told him that had the trial been a non-jury bench trial, the verdict would have been guilty. One could argue that the judge declared a mistrial because he did not agree with the jury's verdict. At a minimum he could have forced further jury deliberations at which the objecting juror would likely succumb again to pressure from other jurors.

Two years later, after an appeals court rejected double jeopardy claims barring a retrial, Ogrod crossed paths with John Hall, a notorious jailhouse informant. Hall was known as “The Monsignor,” because he heard more confessions than a priest. With Hall's help, Ogrod was convicted in 1996 and sentenced to death. In 1997, a Daily News reporter raised serious questions about Hall based purely on the sheer number of cases Hall had been involved in. However, it had only been proven that Hall had lied in one 1995 case.

In 2003, Hall wrote a series of private letters, never intended for publication, explaining how he got Ogrod convicted. Hall did not actually testify at Ogrod's trial as his past informant testimony and criminal convictions undermined his credibility. Instead he got fellow inmate Jay Wolchansky to testify and told him what to say. During trial Wolchansky was allowed to testify under the alias Jason Banachowski.

At the time Hall was facing a 25 to 50 year mandatory minimum sentence on various charges. Instead he got 9 to 18 months after several detectives who had worked with him on the Horn case and other cases showed up to testify for him. Wolchansky also got consideration for his testimony. As Hall put it, “Everyone made out.” Except, of course, Ogrod. On June 7, 2005, Governor Rendell signed Ogrod's death warrant, scheduling his execution for Aug. 2, 2005. The execution has since been stayed.  [3/08]


References:  City PaperCommonwealth v. Ogrod

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Philadelphia Cases, Career Informant Cases,  Double Jeopardy Cases