Joseph Jenkins, left and Charles Walker.
(Photo: Florida Department of Corrections)
Two recaptured Florida killers who had used forged paperwork to obtain release from prison had "a lot of help" and more arrests are coming soon, a state official said Sunday.
The case of Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, who walked out of the same prison 11 days apart, has rocked Florida's criminal justice system.
The men were back in prison garb Sunday when they appeared before a judge, hours after they were taken into custody, unarmed and without incident, at the Coconut Grover Motor Inn in the panhandle tourist town of Panama City Beach.
Each was booked on one count of escape, denied bail and scheduled for another court appearance Friday.
"They had to have had help - and a lot of help - to get to where they were last night," Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said at a press briefing Sunday.
Bailey said an investigation was underway to determine who forged the documents that revised the life sentences of the convicts, both 34, at Franklin Correctional Facility in Carrabelle.
The forged paperwork indicated their sentences had each been shortened to 15 years. Jenkins was released Sept. 27, Walker on Oct. 8. The men had each been convicted of unrelated murders -- Jenkins in 1998, Walker in 1999.
In both cases, prison officials contacted the convicts' families to notify them in advance of the releases. Jenkins uncle, Henry Pearson, picked him up at prison; Walker's family couldn't make it, so prison officials put him on a bus.
Both men even registered as felons at an Orlando jail within days of their release, as required by law. They were photographed and fingerprinted, but since no outstanding warrants had been issued, they walked out without notice. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said his staff had no way of knowing the men were supposed to be locked up.
Bailey said the preliminary investigation indicated that someone was selling phony court documents for $8,000. He said officials had not determined whether the document dealer worked in the criminal justice system.
"I don't know where the person was located," Bailey said. "The documents themselves looked good, they looked official."
Orange-Osceola State Attorney Jeff Ashton told the Orlando Sentinel that he found out about Jenkins' release after his victim's family told prosecutors. The subsequent investigation revealed that Walker also had been released based on fake documents.
Bailey said it was not clear if the men had acted in tandem. They were not together for most of the time they were free, he said.
"We will be talking with them throughout today," Bailey said Sunday. He said authorities have learned that the men were planning to leave Florida soon.
Authorities immediately began contacting people who visited or called the men at the prison. Bailey said a tip led authorities to the motel. The convicts were under surveillance for more than two days before being surprised when authorities knocked on their door.
Their release led to changes. The Department of Corrections now will contact a judge to verify that inmates' sentences have been reduced, department Secretary Michael Crews said.
Pearson said he was shocked to learn last week that his nephew was not supposed to be free. On Saturday night, he heard about the captures while watching TV. Soon after, a law enforcement agent called his home and let Jenkins speaks with Jenkins' wife.
"He just said that he was OK and that he loved us," Pearson said. "We have a great sense of relief because we did not know how this would end up."