Friend tipped off police to whereabouts of escaped Florida inmates
(CNN) — A tip from an acquaintance of one of two convicted murderers who were mistakenly released from prison led to their arrests at a Florida motel, the commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Sunday.
Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins were unarmed when they were taken into custody Saturday evening in Panama City, where they were waiting for their ride to arrive from Atlanta, Gerald Bailey said. It was unclear where the men expected to go, he said.
He said a “close associate” informed authorities that the men were in the area. Bailey said they were arrested by themselves without incident at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn. They had been in Bay County for only 48 hours, he said.
Walker and Jenkins will be held without bail and make their next court appearances Friday, a Bay County, Florida, judge said Sunday.
He said the two will be held with probable cause for one count each of escape.
There will be more arrests, Bailey predicted.
“They had to have had help (after their escape) — and a lot of help — to get where they were last night,” he said.
The state Department of Corrections — which mistakenly released the men, though it has insisted it was through no fault of its own — said little about the arrests.
Cell phone video obtained by CNN from another guest at the motel shows U.S. marshals storming the men’s room, guns drawn.
Authorities had been searching for Walker and Jenkins, both 34, after investigators discovered that the motions to reduce their respective sentences and court orders granting the requests had been forged.
Both killers had been convicted and sentenced to life behind bars without the possibility of parole within two years of their crimes.
In September 1998, Jenkins killed Roscoe Pugh Jr. during a home-invasion robbery attempt.
Six months later, Cedric Slater was gunned down on an Orlando street corner — shot dead, a jury determined, by Walker.
Jenkins left the prison in North Carrabelle, in the Florida Panhandle, on September 27, and Walker left on October 8, according to authorities.
On Saturday, family members of both men denied any knowledge of the escape plans.
The legal-looking documents the men used contained bogus reproductions of several key players’ signatures, including those of the Orlando-area State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton or the assistant state attorney and Judge Belvin Perry. They bore the seal of the Orange County clerk of court’s office.
“They are excellent fakes,” Perry said.
The judge said his signature is easy to find online on documents related to the high-profile trial of Casey Anthony. Anthony was acquitted in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.
“People, particularly people with criminal minds, come up with ingenious ways to beat the system,” Perry said. “They have nothing but time on their hands to think of things.”
He stressed to CNN’s Don Lemon on Sunday that he had nothing to do with the cases in question — that they were assigned to other judges.
“When your name and documents that you’ve signed are plastered on the Internet for anybody and everybody to see, and someone with basic knowledge can paste and cut your signature, it doesn’t surprise me that it did happen. It was just a matter of time,” Perry said. “It shows that we need to do a little bit more in authentication of documents.”
Prosecutors learned about what happened after a member of Walker’s family contacted them, Ashton, the state attorney, said.
An October 8 letter from the Department of Corrections to Slater’s mother, Evangelina Kearse, notified her a “court order and amended sentence caused (Walker’s) sentence to expire.”
“Please be aware that recent actions causing the release of this offender are beyond our control. Nevertheless, we apologize for the delay in this message,” it said.
Mike Crews, secretary of the Department of Corrections, said he was confident in the procedure to release prisoners, but “obviously there was a gap somewhere.”
From now on, prison officials will be required to check with the judge to make sure a release order is legitimate, he said.
Bailey said there have been two other instances in which inmates attempted to use false documents to gain release, but officials prevented them from escaping.
Both Walker and Jenkins appeared to play by the rules after their release. They went to the Orange County jail to register as felons — Jenkins on September 30, Walker on October 11 — as required by law.
Though their releases may have initially seemed legitimate, the two convicts later were classified as escapees.
By Steve Almasy. Greg Botelho and John Couwels, CNN
CNN’s Nick Valencia, John Zarrella, Kim Segal, Chelsea J. Carter and David Simpson contributed to this report.
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