Convictions At Any Cost

Walter Ogrod has been behind bars since 1992 and on death row for 20 years. He was convicted in the 1988 murder of a little girl, near Oxford Circle. That the case is a tragedy is not in doubt. The extent of the tragedy is.

Will Bunch’s article A death row inmate, a murder victim's son, and a 16-year quest for justice (Daily News, March 28) describes the efforts of author Tom Lowenstein “to show that Philadelphia police and prosecutors had used a false confession and the beyond-dubious involvement of a notorious and later-discredited jailhouse snitch to solve a high-profile murder by locking up an innocent man.”

That is how the article describes it. It would not be appropriate or ethical for me, a candidate for District Attorney, to take a position on the specifics of a particular case under review, and I am not taking a position on the case now.

However, it is clear that for decades the practice and policy of the District Attorney’s Office has been to win convictions at any cost, too often at the cost of justice itself. I started as a public defender around the time of the murder. I became a private criminal defense lawyer about five years later. My daily experience in court for 30 years means the following fact does not surprise me: 25–30% of convicts later exonerated by DNA evidence had confessed — confessed to crimes they could not possibly have committed.

This is just one aspect of a prosecutorial culture that recently stole 17 months from Kevin Prince after a prosecutor relied on the uncorroborated word of a convicted robber.

The next District Attorney must change that culture.

  • The next District Attorney must generally require that all confessions taken by police and entered into evidence be videotaped as a matter of policy where possible and reject those that are not videotaped where possible. I will.
  • The next District Attorney must decline to prosecute cases forwarded by the police that lack support by sufficient and legally obtained evidence. I will.
  • The next District Attorney must require that all potentially exculpatory evidence be shared with the defense, as the law demands (Brady v Maryland, 1963). I will.
  • The next District Attorney must reject the death penalty categorically, as an expensive, inefficient, ineffective and immoral fraud on the public. I will.
  • The next District Attorney must seize every opportunity to expose evidence that might allow an innocent person to go free, no matter how many years have passed. I will.

I will not see taxpayer money spent to keep innocent people in prison cells while our schools can’t afford to keep nurses on their staff. I will not put protection of the organization ahead of the pursuit of justice. I have never been part of that toxic culture. I owe it no favors.

One last thing.

Four-year-old Barbara Jean Horn was murdered. If the wrong person went to death row for it — and I specify that I am saying if — then the person who did murder her walked free.