Montco inmate is first in Pa. to die from COVID-19

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections reported its first coronavirus-related death of an inmate on Monday. 

According to a press release from the DOC, the 67-year-old inmate was serving a life sentence at SCI Phoenix in Skippack. 

He reportedly died on April 8 at Einstein Medical Center. It took three days for a coroner to list the cause of death as COVID-19. 

DOC officials said the man also suffered from high blood pressure and cirrhosis of the liver.

At least three other inmates are hospitalized — one who tested positive for coronavirus, and two others waiting for results. As of Monday, 11 inmates and 19 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 across the state-run prison system.

“Very, very saddened by that development,” said attorney James Rollins, reacting to the death behind the wall. His client, Walter Ogrod, also suffered COVID-19 symptoms while on death row at SCI Phoenix, but the DOC declined to test him. 

Ogrod claims he’s innocent. His lawyers filed an emergency petition to get him released.

“The court denied that petition but said it would be heard June 5,” Rollins said.

Justice advocates are also pressuring stakeholders to lower inmate populations to stop the spread of the virus. On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order that may potentially set 1,200 low-risk inmates free.

Philadelphia courts have been swiftly working to reduce inmate populations in the city's jails, since it launched new protocols for prioritizing inmate release a week ago. 

As of Monday, Philadelphia-run prisons reported 4,134 inmates in custody, marking a decrease of 592 inmates since courts closed on March 16. More than 220 inmates were set free between April 7 and 10 alone.

“We had four courtrooms operational last week, just for these emergency petitions,” said Judge Patrick Dugan, president judge for the Philadelphia Municipal Court. 

He said the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office submitted a list of 1,900 cases for review on April 2. Days later, the court rolled out new protocols for prioritizing cases, focusing on inmates in jail for economic crimes, those who have served their minimum sentence, or those who are held on a maximum bail of $25,000 and are not charged with gun, sex, violent or drug crimes. 

Dugan said judges have been working around the clock.

“We have Zoom set up. We have people who are calling in — we are doing this conference call — so we are adjusting. And we are doing a lot of work,” he said.

The Defender Association of Philadelphia released a memo saying its lawyers filed 650 emergency petitions — 560 of which have been reviewed, and more than 80% have been granted since March 20.

As of Monday, city health officials said cases appear to cluster in places like nursing homes, behavioral health facilities and prisons. To date, 66 inmates have tested positive.