ORLANDO, Fla. – At first glance, the paperwork ordering the release of two convicted murderers serving life sentences in a Florida prison looked legitimate.
So the guards at Franklin Correctional Institution in the Florida Panhandle put one of the men on a bus and opened the gates for the other to ride away with family. Authorities now say prison officials were duped by the court documents, which included a fake motion from a prosecutor and a judge’s forged signature.
As prison officials, prosecutors and courts across the state scrambled to make sure no one else had been mistakenly released, police were searching for the two men who already had a head start. Joseph Jenkins was let out Sept. 27, and Charles Walker was freed Oct. 8.
Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry said Thursday there were several red flags that should have attracted the attention of the court clerk’s office or the Corrections Department. Namely, it’s rare for a judge to order a sentence reduction, and even more uncommon for the request to come from prosecutors.
Jenkins, 34, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 1998 killing and botched robbery of Roscoe Pugh, an Orlando man.
State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton said he learned Jenkins had been released when Pugh’s family contacted his office. They reviewed the paperwork and found that it was a fake, then notified law enforcement. Later, they discovered Walker’s release documents were also bogus. The paperwork also forged prosecutors’ signatures, Ashton said.
It wasn’t clear exactly who dummied up the paperwork or if the two cases were connected.