A tip from an acquaintance of one of the two murderers who were mistakenly freed from prison led to their arrests at a Florida motel. Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker were unarmed when they were taken into custody Saturday evening in Panama City. They were awaiting a ride from someone in Atlanta, Georgia. It is unclear where the men were going to go. The commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Gerald Bailey said that a “close associate” informed authorities that the men were in that area. The men were arrested by themselves and without incident at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn. They had been in the area for about 48 hours. Walker and Jenkins will be held without bail and make their next court appearance Friday in Bay County, Florida. The two are being held with probable cause for a charge of escape. Bailey predicted as the investigation continued more arrests would be made.
“They had to have had help…a lot of help,” Bailey said.
The Florida Department of Corrections mistakenly released the men due to forged documents. Authorities had been searching for Walker and Jenkins, both 34, after a family member of one of the men contacted State Attorney Jeff Ashton about the man’s release. Investigators then discovered that the motions to reduce their sentences, filed separately on different days, and the court orders granting the requests were all forged. Both men had been convicted of murder and sentenced to life. In September of 1998, Jenkins killed Roscoe Pugh Jr. during a home-invasion robbery. In March of 1999, Walker gunned down Cedric Slater on an Orlando street corner. Jenkins left the prison on September 27 and Walker left about a week later on October 8th. Family members for both men denied any involvement and made public pleas for them to turn themselves in.
The legal-looking fakes contained the reproductions of many key figures including State Attorney Jeff Ashton and Judge Belvin Perry. It also bore the seal of the Orange County clerk of court’s office. “They are excellent fakes,” Perry said.
Since both Ashton’s and Perry’s signatures are easy to find online in relation to the high-profile capital trial of Casey Anthony two years ago, it wouldn’t have been hard to pull the scheme off. Anthony was acquitted at trial in 2011.
“People, particularly people with criminal minds, come up with ingenious ways to beat the system,” Perry said. “They have nothing but time on their hands…”
Judge Perry stressed that he had nothing to do with either case, “When your name and documents that you’ve signed are plastered on the Internet for anybody and everybody to see, and someone with basic knowledge can paste and cut your signature, it doesn’t surprise me that it did happen. It was just a matter of time,” Perry said. “It shows that we need to do a little bit more in authentication…”
An October 8th letter from the Department of Corrections to Slater’s mother, Evangelina Kearse, stated: “court order and amended sentence caused (Walker’s) sentence to expire. Please be aware that recent actions causing the release of this offender are beyond our control…we apologize for the delay in this message.” Mike Crews, secretary of the Department of Corrections, said he was confident in the procedure, but acknowledged that there “was a gap somewhere.” From now on, prison officials will be required to check with the judge to make sure a release order is legitimate, according to a policy change. There are two other known instances where inmates attempted fake release documents, according to Bailey. Officials prevented both inmates from leaving. Walker and Jenkins followed release rules after their releases. They went to the Orange County Jail and registered separately as felons, Jenkins on September 30th and Walker on October 11th, which is required by law. Since their releases were not legitimate, they were classified as escapees.