Official Synopsis from Amazon: The horrific 1988 murder of four-year-old Barbara Jean Horn shocked the citizens of Philadelphia. Plucked from her own front yard, Barbara Jean was found dead less than two and a half hours later in a cardboard TV box dragged to a nearby street curb. After months of investigation with no strong leads, the case went cold. Four years later it was reopened, and Walter Ogrod, a young man with autism spectrum disorder who had lived across the street from the family at the time of the murder, was brought in as a suspect.
Ogrod bears no resemblance to the composite police sketch based on eyewitness accounts of the man carrying the box, and there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime. His conviction was based solely on a confession he signed after thirty-six hours without sleep. “They said I could go home if I signed it,” Ogrod told his brother from the jailhouse. The case was so weak that the jury voted unanimously to acquit him, but at the last second—in a dramatic courtroom declaration—one juror changed his mind. As he waited for a retrial, Ogrod’s fate was sealed when a notorious jailhouse snitch was planted in his cell block and supplied the prosecution with a second supposed confession. As a result, Walter Ogrod sits on death row for the murder today.
Informed by police records, court transcripts, interviews, letters, journals, and more, award-winning journalist Thomas Lowenstein leads readers through the facts of the infamous Horn murder case in compelling, compassionate, and riveting fashion. He reveals explosive new evidence that points to a condemned man’s innocence and exposes a larger underlying pattern of prosecutorial misconduct in Philadelphia.
Setting: Philadelphia, 1988 to today
***I received an eARC copy of The Trials of Walter Ogrod from the publisher via NetGalley***
Review: The Trials of Walter Ogrod is a shocking, disturbing tale of misconduct, crime, law, and order. I learned a lot about the American justice system and about the different rules that lawyers and detectives must follow. It was fascinating to read about these details, but also sad in that many times the rules are ignored or passed over.
The Trials of Walter Ogrod tells the story of a terrible crime that happened in 1988 in Philadelphia, and the subsequent manhunt, and the later (much later) arrest and conviction of Walter Ogrod. The book goes to great lengths to show that Walter has been imprisoned unfairly, and the courtroom scenes, especially the first court case, are mesmerizing. The court scene mentioned above had me glued to the page, and I can’t recall the last time I literally could not put a book down. And this is a non-fiction read! I was hooked on the story of Walter, and his history, and I kept reading hoping someone would see what was happening.
From the first court case, to the jailing and second court case, there is a bit of a lag in the story, and I’m not sure that some information isn’t missing. For instance, (and I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler), but the second time Walter was tried, the defense was handled very oddly, and the reason for this is never explained in the book. Why the sudden shift in defense? His lawyer’s behavior is so puzzling, and it seems like there might be another story there. But this just further drove my interest in the story, and isn’t a negative, just something I noticed and it’s something I’m curious about. But Walter’s story is not over, so perhaps someday more information will be told.
The author, Thomas Lowenstein, has done a tremendous amount of research here, and it is organized in a thoughtful, interesting way. You will definitely want to read the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, which details his reasoning behind writing the book, and how he discovered Walter’s story.
In terms of what I didn’t like about the book, I must warn readers that it is fairly graphic. The crime is the murder of a four-year-old girl, and the violence is mentioned in detail, along with a lot of language throughout the book. There was also a lot of technical legal and detective information that was fascinating, but also was a bit dry in sections.
I saw this title pop up on NetGalley, and ever since I read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, about a lawyer who focuses on helping those on death row, I’ve been interested and drawn to stories about crime and law, especially those who have been wrongfully convicted. Walter’s story is one that people should know, along with Barbara Jean’s story (she was the little girl who was murdered).
I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes to read nonfiction, true crime, books about law and order, and books with powerful human stories. I won’t be forgetting Walter Ogrod and his story anytime soon, and I really recommend this read!
Bottom Line: Powerful and haunting. I couldn’t put this book down, and rated this 4 stars on Goodreads.
The Trials of Walter Ogrod was published on April 1, 2017.
And here’s a link to my review of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Does this sound like an interesting read to you? Are you interested in legal / crime / nonfiction books?