A pair of convicted murderers have been recaptured peacefully after prison officials in Florida were duped into releasing them early.
Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, both 34, were arrested on Saturday evening at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City, Florida. The two men, both of whom had been serving life sentences, were released separately from the state’s Franklin Correctional Institution, after officials received forged papers that appeared to significantly reduce their prison terms.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is now investigating how the scam was organised. The false papers included the forged signature of Florida judge Belvin Perry, who told CNN his signature was easy to find online in documents relating to the high-profile murder trial of Casey Anthony, over which he presided. The state’s prison authorities say that henceforth they will contact a judge to verify an inmate’s early release, rather than rely simply on paperwork.
Jenkins was released on 27 September and travelled the 300 miles to his home in Orange County with relatives. He visited his mother and grandmother before registering as a felon at a local jail on 30 September. Released felons must register after their release, and the two men did so to maintain the appearance of their freedom being above board. Jenkins’ family reportedly planned a birthday party for him the following day, but he never turned up. Walker left prison on 8 October and took a bus back to Orlando, where he attended church and spent time with family before registering as a felon on 11 October. Then he, too, disappeared.
The chief of the US Marshals Service in Florida, Frank Chiumento, told the Associated Press yesterday that as soon as the forgeries were exposed, the escapees knew their time on the lam would be limited. A $10,000 (£6,200) reward was offered for either man’s capture. After their escape was made public, they travelled together to Panama City, some 350 miles from Orlando, where on Friday they checked in to the Coconut Grove motel.
On Saturday the two men’s relatives held a news conference begging them to turn themselves in. Law enforcement officials said they later received a tip from a “close associate” of the men, leading officers to the motel.
Jenkins was jailed for the 1998 murder of a suspected drug dealer, after breaking into the man’s home and shooting him in the leg with an AK-47 machine gun. Walker received his life sentence the following year, after he shot dead 23-year-old Cedric Slater, who he claimed had been bullying him. “He’s not a vicious person,” Walker’s cousin Walt Lee told the Orlando Sentinel. “He’s a good man.”