PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – Two convicted killers who were freed from prison by phony documents were captured together without incident Saturday night at a motel in Panama City Beach, authorities said.
Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, both 34, were not armed when they were taken into custody at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in a touristy area near putt-putt courses and go-kart tracks. Several hours earlier, their families had held a news conference in Orlando – some 300 miles away – urging them to surrender.
Authorities think the men had been in the Panama Beach area since Wednesday.
Jenkins and Walker were both serving life sentences at the Franklin Correctional Facility in the Panhandle before they walked out without anyone realizing the paperwork, complete with case numbers and a judge’s forged signature, was bogus. The documents reduced their life sentences to 15 years.
Jenkins was released first on Sept. 27. His uncle and father figure, Henry Pearson, said when prison officials called him in Orlando he jumped in the car with fresh clothes for Jenkins and picked him up from prison.
About a week later, on Oct. 8, Walker was let out of the same prison when similar legitimate-looking documents duped prison officials. His mother, Lillie Danzy, said the family thought their prayers had been answered when she got a call saying her son was being released.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said authorities were able to track down the men through interviews with people who visited them at the prison, called them there or made deposits into their canteen account. That included family members and ex-girlfriends and others, he said.
“The key piece of this was an individual or individuals that had made deposits into their canteen accounts at the prison,” Bailey said.
The investigation will now turn to the forgeries, he said.
The falsified paperwork exposed gaps in Florida’s judicial system.
In light of the errors, the Corrections Department changed the way it verifies early releases and prison officials will now verify with judges – not just court clerks – before releasing prisoners early.