As you read this story, please keep the title question in mind. What would the penalty be if this was conducted by a private company? What accountability would you demand?
Walter Ogrod was just set free after spending 3 decades on death row. The reason he was there in the first place underscores everything that is wrong with the justice system.
In July of 1988, a 4 year old girl named Barbara Jean went missing in Philadelphia. Her body was found wrapped in a garbage bag inside of a TV box, about 1000 feet from her home.
4 years later, Philadelphia police arrested one of her neighbors, Walter, charged him with sexual assault and murder, and forced him to confess. While he was in jail awaiting trial, they enticed jailhouse informants to fabricate statements against him in exchange for immunity from charge for their upcoming cases.
Let me repeat that: the police got people in jail to lie about an innocent man, in exchange for letting them free from things they were possibly guilty of doing.
Walter's "confession" was riddled with errors that didn't line up with the facts of the case. For one thing, his "confession" was that he beat her to death, but she died from asphyxiation.
During the trial, prosecutors withheld exonerating evidence from the defense, which at this point is something we've all become used to hearing, even though it's illegal.
There was, of course, zero physical evidence.
The prosecution's case was so terrible that Walter's first trial ended in a mistrial. Even still, they were able to successfully convict him in 1996, and he was sentenced to death.
The Philadelphia DA and police were more concerned about pinning Barbara's death on someone, anyone, than they were about doing the harder work of actually finding the person who raped and murdered her.
Let's recap: the people in charge of protecting the people of Philadelphia focused their efforts on framing an innocent man, and even setting other suspects free in exchange for lying about him, rather than trying to find a rapist and murderer who may still be walking the streets today.
Thankfully, even though it took nearly 30 years, a Philadelphia judge finally set Walter free, and the DA's office is filing to refuse to retry him.
Unfortunately, many other people have been executed despite similarly terrible cases against them, including Nathaniel Woods earlier this year (link to my post about Nate's case in the comments).
Jo Jorgensen and I are staunchly opposed to the death penalty. We believe that when government is given power, they often use it in the most cynical, abusive and inequitable ways. The death penalty gives government the power to decide if any of us are allowed to live or die, and we see often what giving them that power leads to.
Thankfully for Walter, after losing over half of his life on death row, he is home with his loved ones.
Thanks for Spike Cohen for posting about this atrocity.
The Libertarian Party of Texas opposes the Death Penalty as a form of punishment by the state, as well as any other unnecessary use of force by state agents in response to criminal action.
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