Police recaptured two convicted killers who were freed from a Florida prison by phony documents and authorities shifted their attention to finding out who was responsible for the mistaken releases that rocked the state’s judicial system.
Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, both 34, were captured on Saturday night without incident at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City Beach, a touristy area of putt-putt courses and go-kart tracks. Hours earlier, their families had held a news conference urging them to surrender.
“Now that we have them in custody, we’re hoping to get something from the interviews with them,” Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said.
Jenkins and Walker were both serving life sentences at the Franklin Correctional Facility before they walked free without anyone realizing that the paperwork, complete with case numbers and a judge’s forged signature, was bogus. The documents seemingly reduced their life sentences to 15 years.
Jenkins was released first on Sept. 27. His uncle and father figure, Henry Pearson, said that when prison officials called him in Orlando he jumped in the car with fresh clothes for Jenkins and picked him up from prison.
He drove him to see his mother and grandmother. Jenkins hung around Pearson’s home for several days and registered as a felon on Sept. 30 at an Orlando jail, as he was required to do by law.
He filled out paperwork, had his photograph taken and his fingerprints were checked against a database to make sure he did not have any outstanding warrants for his arrest.
Pearson planned a birthday party for Jenkins on Oct. 1, but he did not show. Pearson thought little of it because Jenkins had friends in the area and had been locked up since the 1998 killing and botched robbery of Roscoe Pugh, an Orlando man.
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. She called prison officials back to make sure it was actually happening.
There was not enough time for the family to pick Walker up, so prison officials took him to a bus station, gave him a ticket — as they would any other ex-inmate — and sent him along.
Walker had been in prison since being convicted of second degree murder in the 1999 Orange County slaying of 23-year-old Cedric Slater. Like Jenkins, he registered at the Orange County jail three days after his release without raising any alarms.
He hung around in the town and went to church, but at some point, he and Jenkins went underground.
On Tuesday, one of Pugh’s relatives contacted the state attorney’s office to let them know Jenkins had been let out. Pugh’s family had been notified by mail, which is typical for families of violent crime victims.
Prosecutors reviewed Jenkins’ case file and quickly discovered the forged paperwork. They soon discovered Walker’s paperwork was also falsified and a manhunt was launched for both men.
In light of the falsified documents, the Florida Department of Corrections changed the way it verifies early releases and prison officials will now verify with judges — not just court clerks — before releasing prisoners early.