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 judges forged signature.
As prison officials, prosecutors and courts across the state scrambled to ensure 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.
Prisoners have had varying success trying to use bogus documents to escape. Many forgeries are discovered early, but there have been cases where inmates walk free.
In the Florida case, Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry said Thursday there were several red flags that should have attracted the attention of the court clerks office or the Corrections Department. Namely, its rare for a judge to order a sentence reduction, and even more uncommon for the request to come from prosecutors.
One of the things we have never taken a close look at is the verification of a particular document to make sure its the Real McCoy, said Perry, whose name was forged on the paperwork. I knew that that was always a possibility, but you never want that possibility occurring in the way that it did.
It wasnt clear exactly who dummied up the paperwork or whether the two cases were connected.
In a statement, the Corrections Department said it verified the prisoners release information with the clerks office.
Florida state Rep. Darryl Rouson, the Democratic ranking member of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, said the legislature should have hearings to examine the agencys procedures.
This is unconscionable, almost unthinkable, said Rouson, a St. Petersburg lawyer.