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Police Reopen Investigation into 1988 Murder of 4-Year-Old Girl After Wrongfully Convicted Man’s Exoneration


Tragedy compounded on tragedy when someone murdered a 4-year-old girl in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and according to prosecutors, a man was wrongfully convicted. Walter Ogrod was exonerated last year for allegedly killing young Barbara Jean Horn in 1988 after the local district attorney’s office said detectives coerced his confession. He spent more than two decades of his life in prison. Now, even the child victim’s mother and stepfather believe Ogrod is innocent.

Amid all this are concerns from the family about a lack of coordination between the prosecutor’s office and police. Cops reportedly reopened the murder investigation after NBC affiliate WCAU aired a true crime series “Who killed Barbara Jean?” Police Captain Jason Smith told the outlet he learned from the show after Ogrod’s exoneration that the district attorney’s office had other possible suspects.

“Prior to that, I did not have knowledge that there were additional suspects that had been developed,” he said.

Prosecutors did not publicly name these other people, but an assistant district attorney reportedly said that one of them is dead and the other is in prison.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (D) himself said that he only learned about the police department’s new investigation from the outlet, but said his office was prepared to share information.

Horn’s stepfather John Fahy voiced frustration over Ogrod’s conviction as well as the disconnect between the district attorney’s office and police.

“Like we’re talking that everybody is just cold blooded here,” he told WCAU. “Everybody involved in a police department, everybody involved in the DA’s office, prior to Larry Krasner, were all cold-blooded.”

Ogrod sued the city and members of the police department for his conviction. From the complaint:

On July 12, 1988 at 5:30 p.m., four-year-old Barbara Jean Horn was discovered by a neighbor dead inside a cardboard television box (the ‘box’) at the curb, next to metal trash cans, in front of 1409 St. Vincent Street, Philadelphia – less than 1,000 feet from her home. Barbara Jean had open head wounds and bruises on her head, back, and shoulders. Her body was naked, wet and partially covered by a plastic garbage bag.

Five witnesses told cops they saw a man carrying or dragging a box through the neighborhood the afternoon of the murder, but none identified Ogrod as this person, the complaint said. The only direct evidence against him was a confession he made to Detectives Martin Devlin and Paul Worrell, but Ogrod said they coerced that confession.

From the complaint:

94. According to his testimony, the interrogation tactics utilized by Defendants Devlin and Worrell included confronting him with pictures of Barbara Jean’s body in the box, accusing him of having committed the murder, and, when he insisted he had nothing to do with it, repeatedly telling him that he was mentally blocking any memory of the murder and they were only trying to help him remember.

95. Mr. Ogrod testified that during the interrogation, Defendant Devlin closed the door and blocked him multiple times when he attempted to leave the interrogation room.

96. Mr. Ogrod also testified that he was never given the opportunity to make a telephone call despite multiple requests during the course of the interrogation.

Ogrod’s first trial derailed into a mistrial after the jury foreman was about to read the verdict but one of the other jurors said he did not agree with the verdict. Ogrod was convicted in his 1996 retrial.

Horn’s mother Sharon Fahy welcomed news of Ogrod’s release.

“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 a 2020 report. “We hope that we will be able to get the person who took Barbara jean away from us to pay for the crimes that he did and hope that he didn’t hurt anyone else.”

Devlin was charged in August along with two other retired Philly police detectives. He was accused of lying in a 2016 retrial for Anthony Wright, a man who spent 25 years of a life term in prison but who was exonerated thanks to DNA evidence.

The city previously settled a lawsuit with Shaurn Thomas, a man whose murder conviction was cleared in 2017. He said he had an alibi. Devlin and Worrell were accused of wrongdoing, including telling a purported witness a false story and beating him until he repeated it, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Lawyer Joseph J. Santarone Jr., an attorney for Devlin and Worrell, declined to make comment to Law&Crime, pointing us toward court documents.

In a motion to dismiss, they argued that the detectives had qualified immunity and that, under the law, Ogrod cannot sue.

“The question of whether Plaintiff’s confession was coerced or voluntary was the same in the suppression hearing as it is in this case; it was actually litigated, as the Hon. Juanita Kidd Stout spent four days of hearings on the issue; the determination was made in a final and valid judgment, and the determination was essential to judgment in the prior Case 2:21-cv-02499-JP Document 18 Filed 09/09/21 Page 17 of 48 action,” documents state. “Consequently, Plaintiff is barred from relitigating the question of the voluntariness of his confession in this § 1983 action and, therefore, cannot validly assert any cause of action premised on the argument that his confession was coerced.”

[Screenshot via WCAU]

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