The manhunt continues this morning for two Orlando-area killers who were mistakenly released from a North Florida prison with fabricated documents that forged the signature of Orange County Chief Judge Belvin Perry.
The orders to release Charles Bernard Walker and Joseph Jenkins, both 34, from the Franklin Correctional Institution in the Panhandle appeared to have the letterhead of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, were processed by the Orange County clerk’s office and sent to the Department of Corrections.
Questions remain about how those documents were manufactured but a clerk’s office spokeswoman said both phony orders contained forgeries of Perry’s signature.
Law officers said they think at least one killer — they didn’t say which one — may be in Orange County but think both could be in the region because their crimes happened here.
On Oct. 8, 34-year-old Charles Walker walked out the front doors of the state prison but investigators say he was supposed to be locked up for life for a second-degree murder in Orange County in 1999.
On Sept. 27, 34-year-old Joseph Jenkins also was mistakenly released from the same prison. Jenkins was serving a life sentence for a first-degree murder of a father of six in Orlando committed in 1998.
Officials at the Franklin Correctional Institution in the Panhandle were duped into thinking the men’s sentences had been reduced because of the counterfeit paperwork, state investigators said.
“Everything came the way it normally comes,” said Misty Cash, Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman. “Our department followed every protocol and did everything we are supposed to do.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is investigating the case to determine how this happened, was not notified of the releases until Tuesday. TheOrange County Sheriff’s Office said they notified the public as soon as they learned about the inadvertent release.
Corrections officials they in the process of checking other documents to make sure they are correct.
Orange County Clerk of Courts spokeswoman Leesa Bainbridge said the orders looked like they came from Judge Perry’s office and were processed normally. Clerk employees do not read the thousands of documents they receive daily but direct them to the appropriate agencies.
Judge’s order modifying any prisoner’s sentence would be sent via fax, email or mail to the Department of Corrections where it is read and executed, she said.
Walker and Jenkins were released because corrections officials didn’t realize paperwork from the Orange County Clerk of Courts was forged, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jessica Cary. It is unclear at what point officials found the mistake.
Walker was sent to prison in the April 1999 shooting death of 23-year-old Cedric Slater, who had been bullying and threatening. The killer told investigators he fired three shots intending to scare the man but instead, shot Slater dead.
“Charles shot me. Call the police. Don’t let me die,” Slater told a friend as he was dying in a friend’s apartment. Walker shot him near Ivey Lane in the Washington Park neighborhood.
Jenkins was one of two Apopka men found guilty in the shooting death of Roscoe Pugh, 28, in Sept. 1998.
Pugh was a father of six. According to a prosecutor, Jenkins and his cousin, Angelo Pearson, planned a home invasion at Pugh’s house. Pearson, 39, is serving a life sentence at the Wakulla Correctional Institution annex in Crawfordville.
On Wednesday night, the Florida Department of Corrections website listed Walker and Jenkins as having been released, and showed a 15-year prison sentence for each.
Orlando police are helping to search for the men, who both have extensive criminal histories.
Cash said they investigating what, if any, connection the two escapees have to one another other.
Anyone who sees them should call 911.
Source: Susan Jacobson, Jerriann Sullivan and Arelis Hernández, Orlando Sentinel