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Man wrongly imprisoned for 4-year-old girl's murder freed after 28 years

Walter Ogrod was on death row in the killing of Barbara Jean Horn in Philadelphia, but prosecutors now say he's innocent..
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A man who spent 28 years behind bars was released from prison Friday after a Pennsylvania judge vacated his 1996 conviction in the murder of a 4-year-old girl.

"I was glad to get out," Walter Ogrod, 55, said.

He was freed with the help of the same Philadelphia District Attorney's Office that prosecuted him back in 1988. This time, the office's Conviction Integrity Unit, created in 2014, worked to disprove the case.

Image: Walter Ogrod
Walter Ogrod, a death row inmate who spent nearly three decades behind bars for the killing of a 4-year-old girl in Philadelphia. Ogrod was granted bail after a hearing Friday, June 5, 2020, in which prosecutors apologized for securing a wrongful conviction.Pennsylvania Department of Corrections via AP

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner welcomed the judge's order, saying in a statement Friday, "On behalf of this office, I apologize to Walter Ogrod and his family. I hope he will soon be officially declared innocent of this horrendous crime."

Judge Shelley Robins New ordered a new trial, and prosecutors have filed a motion to quell a retrial. If that motion is granted, Ogrod's case will be closed. For now he's out on bail.

Prosecutors now believe that Ogrod was coerced into a false confession after 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn was found dead in a cardboard television box near his north Philadelphia home.

Witnesses said they saw a man near the box, but he didn't look like Ogrod. Jurors in his first trial voted 11-1 to acquit, but a second trial included the testimony of jailhouse informants, and Ogrod was convicted.

His lawyers said earlier this year that DNA found at the crime scene did not match his.

In an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt in May, Ogrod said he believed he contracted COVID-19 and recovered while serving time in Pennsylvania's State Correctional Institution Phoenix. But he was not tested.

"It’s remarkable that this occurred today, during a time when our country is experiencing so much unrest and so many questions about our criminal justice system and whether or not it is so demonstrably broke that you can’t get just results," Assistant District Attorney Patricia Cummings said Friday.

Prosecutors vowed to put whoever killed Horn behind bars.

"To know that an innocent man has been in prison and the person that did this has been out, it's just horrible," said the girl's mother, Sharon Fahy.