Hunt continues for murderers mistakenly freed in Florida; DOC says it’s not to blame
(CNN) — State and federal police fanned out across Florida on Friday in search of two murderers who walked out of prison after documents bearing forged signatures resulted in their release, authorities said.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Corrections said it was merely following a court order and no one in the department is at fault for the men’s release.
“It’s our responsibility to carry out the order of the court. It’s not our job to question what the court does,” said department spokeswoman Misty Cash. “We were given the info from the court that their sentence was modified, and we did our role.”
Nothing could have been done differently on the department’s part, she said.
“The fault does not lie on us. No one is getting in trouble here for what happened,” she said.
Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, both 34, are considered “escapees” after investigators discovered forged motions to reduce their sentences and forged court orders granting the request, according to authorities. They had been serving life sentences without the possibility of parole after murder convictions.
The men were so brazen about their escape that they went to the Orange County Jail after their release to register as felons, jail spokeswoman Christina Grover said. Jenkins came in September 30 and Jenkins showed up October 11, she said.
They filled out voluntary criminal registrant forms and were fingerprinted, she said. A deputy also checked for any outstanding warrants.
A “vigorous and thorough review” will be conducted of other such prison releases to ensure no others have been freed with falsified documents, Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews said Thursday.
“This will be a lesson learned for all involved. We may now look more closely at what the court sends,” Cash added Friday. “Our system is being accused, and people are being led to believe that the DOC let these guys walk out the front door, and that’s just not the case.
“Our process is completely transparent. This is not some kind of cover-up.”
Both motions bore the forged signatures of the Orlando-area state attorney or the assistant state attorney, according to a statement from 9th Circuit State Attorney Jeffrey L. Ashton.
The judge’s order granting Jenkins’ and Walker’s releases had another forged signature, that of Judge Belvin Perry, who presided over the Casey Anthony trial. Ashton prosecuted the Anthony case.
Perry told CNN he wasn’t surprised by the ruse.
“People, particularly people with criminal minds, come up with ingenious ways to beat the system,” he said. “They have nothing but time on their hands to think of things.”
The orders to release the inmates were filed with the Orange County clerk of court’s office, Ashton said. The documents, which contained the county seal, appeared legitimate, he said.
Like the Corrections Department, Ashton ordered a review of records in an e-mail to his prosecutors to determine whether anyone else filed “similar forged documents or other suspicious activity.”
Walker and Jenkins were released from the Franklin Correctional Institution in the Panhandle community of Carrabelle, Crews said.
Jenkins walked free September 27, and Walker was released October 8, authorities said.
It’s unclear whether the two men — both former Orlando residents — knew each other, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office worries at least one of them may have returned to the area.
Walker was convicted in the 1999 homicide of Cedric Slater, whom witnesses said Walker shot from a car as Slater stood on an Orlando street corner.
Jenkins was convicted in the slaying of Roscoe Pugh Jr. about 15 years ago. The victim’s son saw his father gunned down during a home-invasion robbery.
“Our lives would be totally different. I’ve said that since I was 9 years old,” Roscoe Pugh III said Thursday. “I said my life would have been different if I wouldn’t have saw it. I saw it.”
His mother, Crystal Pugh, said of Jenkins, “To know he’s free on the streets is frightening, is terrifying.”
Law enforcement officials learned of the prison escapes Tuesday after a member of the family of Walker’s victim contacted the state attorney’s office to ask about the convict’s release, Ashton said in his statement.
An October 8 letter from the Department of Corrections to Slater’s mother, Evangelina Kearse, notified her that a “court order and amended sentence caused offender’s sentence to expire.
“Please be aware that recent actions causing the release of this offender are beyond our control. Nevertheless, we apologize for the delay in this message,” it said.
The discovery of the forgeries comes as Florida is prosecuting another inmate, Jeffrey Forbes, for allegedly trying a similar scheme in 2011. The charging documents were filed with the court October 7, the day before Walker was released from prison.
Forbes is accused of forgery and attempted escape after a police detective who initially helped convict the man discovered he was due to be released despite being sentenced to life in prison for the attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, according to Ashton’s statement.
The investigation revealed someone had forged Ashton’s name on a bogus court order reducing the sentence and a circuit court judge’s name on the order reducing Forbes’ life sentence, the statement said.
“It is now clear that the use of forged court documents to obtain release from prison is an ongoing threat which all law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, court clerks and prison officials must address and stop,” it said.
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