PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida (AP) — Two convicted killers who were freed from prison by phony documents were captured together without incident Saturday night at a Florida motel, authorities said.
Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, both 34, were not armed when they were taken into custody at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in a touristy area of Panama City Beach, near putt-putt courses and go-kart tracks. Several hours earlier, their families had held a news conference urging them to surrender.
Jenkins and Walker were both serving life sentences at Florida's Franklin Correctional Facility before they were released within the last month. The bogus paperwork, complete with case numbers and a judge's forged signature, duped prison officials and reduced their sentences to 15 years.
Jenkins was released first on Sept. 27. His uncle and father figure, Henry Pearson, said 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 a couple of days and registered as a felon Sept. 30 at an Orlando jail, as he was required by law. He filled out paperwork, had his photograph taken and his fingerprints were checked against a database to make sure he didn't have any outstanding warrants for his arrest.
The Orange County jail official who interacted with him had no idea he was supposed to be locked up, Sheriff Jerry Demings said.
Pearson planned a birthday party for Jenkins on Oct. 1, but he didn't show. Pearson thought little of it because Jenkins had friends in the area, and after all, he 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 wasn't time to pick him 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 his conviction 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 knocked around town and went to church last Sunday, 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.
The falsified paperwork exposed gaps in Florida's judicial system. In light of the errors, the Corrections Department changed the way it verifies early releases and prison officials will now verify with judges — not just court clerks — before releasing prisoners early.