Philadelphia court orders COVID-19 testing, treatment for death row inmate

Walter Ogrod was sentenced in 1996 for the death of a 4-year-old girl. Prosecutors, though, now say he's "likely innocent." File Photo courtesy of attorneys for Walter Ogrod

March 22 (UPI) — A Pennsylvania court on Saturday ordered a condemned inmate be tested for coronavirus as he sits on death row despite prosecutors’ statements that he’s likely innocent.

The Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas said the state’s Department of Corrections must transport Walter Ogrod, 55, to a local hospital for testing and treatment.

Ogrod has had symptoms consistent with COVID-19, including cough, difficulty breathing and a 106-degree fever. His lawyers asked the courts to allow him to be transported off death row for medical treatment.

“We are grateful that the court has ordered the Department of Corrections to allow Walter Ogrod to receive testing and treatment for possible COVID-19 outside of the prison,” his lawyer, James Rollins said. “To make an innocent man remain even one extra day on death row is unjust. To leave him on death row showing symptoms of COVID-19 without adequate medical treatment would be unconscionable.”

In February, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office filed briefs in court saying Ogrod is “likely innocent” of assaulting and killing a 4-year-old girl in 1988. They said he was convicted on flawed evidence, including a coerced confession and testimony from discredited jailhouse informants.

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The filings called Ogrod’s conviction a “gross miscarriage of justice” and requested his 1996 conviction be vacated and he be released from prison. Ogrod has spent 23 years on death row for the conviction.

Earlier this week, the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas rejected defense lawyers’ request for an expedited hearing on his case in light of the prosecutors’ filings and Ogrod’s illness.

“Every day a decision and/or hearing is delayed is another day that Mr. Ogrod remains on death row for a crime he did not commit and at grave risk to his life,” Rollins said earlier this week.

The court’s order Saturday comes after a Texas appeals court issued stays of execution for two death row inmates, citing the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawyers for those inmates — John Hummel and Tracy Beatty — said the outbreak has limited their ability to conduct investigations in the days before their client’s scheduled executions.

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