Philly agrees to $9.1 million settlement for man exonerated in 1988 slaying of 4-year-old girl

Walter Ogrod was exonerated after spending 28 years in prison for the death of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn.

Walter Ogrod, who was exonerated after spending 28 years in prison for the 1988 slaying of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn, has agreed to a $9.1 million settlement of a federal lawsuit he filed against the City of Philadelphia, Ogrod’s lawyers announced Friday.

In June 2020, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge overturned Ogrod’s conviction after the District Attorney’s Office agreed it was tainted by critical flaws — including a coerced confession, key evidence withheld by police and prosecutors, and unreliable testimony from jailhouse snitches.

Barbara Jean’s mother, Sharon Fahy, has said that she believed in Ogrod’s innocence, and that she supported his release from prison.

A year later, Ogrod filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against the city and key people who helped put him behind bars for 28 years, including 23 years on death row.

The city confirmed the $9.1 million settlement in a statement Friday.

The statement also said: “The city remains committed to transparency in the pursuit of justice. Although the city’s settlement is not a finding of wrongdoing by any party, the city recognizes the pain and burden to all parties that continued litigation of this lawsuit would bring. The city hopes that this resolution can be a just result for all those affected, and our hearts remain with the family of Barbara Jean Horn as they continue to seek justice for their loved one.”

Tracye Ulstad, of the federal Public Defender’s Office, puts an arm on Walter Ogrod, who started crying while being interviewed on June 5, 2020. Ogrod, who had been on death row for 23 years and incarcerated for 28 years, was exonerated that day. MARGO REED / For the Inquirer

Attorney Joseph M. Marrone, who represented Ogrod, said in a statement that the “litigation was a long and hard-fought battle that resulted in a significant settlement that will give Walter Ogrod the economic support he needs as he continues re-establishing his life. He remains optimistic about his future and is committed to fighting for his fellow inmates who have also been wrongfully convicted.”

Marrone claimed that his law office discovered new DNA evidence that had never been analyzed during the decadeslong investigation.

Reached by phone on Friday, Marrone declined to comment further, saying there will be a news conference about the settlement on Monday and that Ogrod will be present.

Ogrod has insisted since his 1992 arrest that he did not kill Barbara Jean, whose remains had been found four years earlier inside a cardboard box on the 1400 block of St. Vincent Street in Northeast Philadelphia.

His arrest was based in part on a confession he allegedly gave to two detectives, Martin Devlin and Paul Worrell. Prosecutors said Ogrod’s conviction was fundamentally flawed due to a host of other issues, including key evidence that was withheld by police and prosecutors at trial, and unreliable testimony from jailhouse informants.

Photo of Barbara Jean Horn taken in 1987 at a Sears department store. Family of Barbara Jean Horn

During a hearing in 2020, Assistant District Attorney Carrie Wood apologized to Ogrod, Barbara Jean’s family members, and the city, saying the prosecutor’s office had previously concealed the truth about the case and “threatened to execute [Ogrod] based on falsehoods.”

Devlin, who is retired, was charged in 2021 with lying in another case. Devlin’s criminal case is pending.

In 2019, the city paid $4.15 million to settle a case involving both Devlin and Worrell, who also is retired.

And on Thursday, the District Attorney’s Office announced that a conviction for a 1995 robbery-murder had been vacated by a Common Pleas Court judge because the defendant’s constitutional rights had been violated.

”One of the detectives involved in the investigation, Paul Worrell, is known to the court for a pattern and practice of eliciting false confessions dating back to at least 1992, and has been implicated in other wrongful convictions that have since been vacated,” the District Attorney’s Office said in a statement on Thursday.

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