Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, both 34, are considered “escapees” by authorities after investigators discovered forged motions to reduce their respective sentences and forged court orders granting the request, according to authorities.
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.
Both motions bore the forged signatures of the Orlando-area state attorney or the assistant state attorney, according to a statement released on behalf of Ninth Circuit State Attorney Jeffrey L. Ashton.
The judge’s order granting the release of Jenkins and Walker bore the forged signature of Judge Belvin Perry, who gained national attention while presiding over the Casey Anthony trial. Ashton served as the case’s chief prosecutor.
Perry told CNN he wasn’t entirely surprised by the alleged ruse.
“People, particularly people with criminal minds, come up with ingenious ways to beat the system,” said Perry. “They have nothing but time on their hands to think of things.”
The orders to release the two inmates were both filed with the Orange County Clerk’s office, Ashton said. The documents, which contained the county seal among its markings, appeared legitimate, he said.
Ashton, meanwhile, 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, both serving life without the possibility of parole sentences for murder, were released from the Franklin Correctional Institution in the Panhandle community of Carrabelle, Crews said.
Jenkins went free on September 27, and Walker was released on October 8, authorities said.
It is unclear whether the two men — both former residents of Orlando — knew each other, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office worries that at least one of them may have returned to the area.
Jenkins was convicted in the slaying of Roscoe Pugh Jr. some 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 told CNN on Thursday. “… I said my life would have been different if I wouldn’t have saw it. I saw it.”
His mother, Crystal, said of Jenkins, “… To know he’s free on the streets is frightening, is terrifying.”
Law enforcement learned of the prison escapes on Tuesday after a family member of Jenkins’ victim contacted the State Attorney’s Office to ask about the convict’s release, Ashton said in the statement.
“They committed violent crimes,” Orange County Sheriff’s Capt. Angelo Nieves told CNN. “The best thing for them to do is to turn themselves in.”
The discovery of the forgeries comes as Florida is prosecuting another inmate, Jeffrey Forbes, for an allegedly similar scheme.
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.