Pennsylvania Death Row Inmate Shows Symptoms of Coronavirus, Attorneys Seek Release And Medical Care

A Pennsylvania death row inmate has developed symptoms of the coronavirus, but hasn't been tested or received the necessary medical treatment, his attorneys have said.

Walter Ogrod, 55, has spent almost 28 years behind bars for the 1988 murder of four-year-old Barbara Jean Horn.

But last month, the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office filed a request for his conviction and death sentence to be vacated after determining that Ogrod is "likely innocent," citing unreliable scientific evidence, false testimony, and alleged misconduct by police and prosecutors.

Earlier this week, Ogrod's attorneys learned the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas would not grant their request for a prompt hearing. His next court date, set for March 27, has been postponed until June 5.

Now, Ogrod's lawyers and the district attorney have filed emergency motions to secure his release from state prison and transfer to a hospital after he developed symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Walter Ogrod
Walter Ogrod has developed serious symptoms for COVID-19, but hasn't received a test or adequate medical care, his attorneys said. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

He developed a high fever, cough, and difficulties breathing, his attorney James Rollins said, but hasn't been given medical treatment despite being in a high-risk category due to his age and medical conditions.

"Walter Ogrod is an innocent man who has spent nearly three decades on Pennsylvania's death row for a crime he did not commit," Rollins said in a statement provided to Newsweek. "He is now showing potentially life-threatening signs of COVID-19 with a high fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.

"The prison is unable to provide the treatment that he needs. 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."

Ogrod was taken to the infirmary at the State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County with a fever, cough, and breathing difficulties on March 11 and placed in isolation, according to the emergency motion.

While in isolation, his fever spiked to 106 degrees, but on Monday he was returned to his cell with his fever "seemingly under control," although he was still coughing and having difficulties breathing.

It was only on Tuesday, a week after he first reported symptoms, that a doctor gave Ogrod clearance to receive a decongestant for his respiratory issues, the motion added.

His attorneys say Ogrod remains confined to his cell and has yet to receive a COVID-19 test.

"Mr. Ogrod has exhibited symptoms consistent with COVID-19, has not been tested for COVID-19, is vulnerable to it because of his age and medical conditions, and has not been given appropriate medical treatment," his attorneys added in the motion.

Courts in Philadelphia have been closed until April due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although the First Judicial District has permitted emergency proceedings for medical reasons.

Rollins called for an immediate ruling on the filing or a telephone hearing to get Ogrod released.

"Given the clear, compelling and uncontested evidence that he is innocent, the Court must do everything in its power to mitigate the injustice and allow Mr. Ogrod to obtain medical treatment," he said.

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections told Newsweek she could not discuss inmate medical issues due to confidentiality policies.

She said the state prison system has no confirmed cases of COVID-19.

"We are fully compliant with CDC guidelines for testing," the spokeswoman said. "Our inmates have access to robust medical staff/operations not only in the facilities but we also have a centralized contracted doctor, Nicholas Scharff, who is the former chief of clinical services here at the PA Department of Corrections. His specialty is in public health, so we brought him back as a special advisor type of doctor."

The country's correctional system is facing an "unprecedented" threat from coronavirus as overcrowded facilities with relatively poor sanitary conditions are the perfect environment for coronavirus to spread like wildfire, prison and civil liberty watchdogs have warned.

This article has been updated with a statement from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

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