Central Florida lawmakers call for Senate hearings after prisoners escape
Investigation ongoing into how inmates serving life sentences were released
Florida lawmakers are investigating how two convicted killers walked out of a Florida prison and how to prevent it from happening again.
Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins were captured and arrested over the weekend at a motel in Panama City, not far from the prison they were falsely released from three weeks earlier after presenting forged documents getting them out early.
The incident has sparked a change in the way the state handles early releases.
"We need to have a secured system for these orders to go through going forward," said Sen. Darren Soto of Kissimmee. Soto said the days of court orders being emailed or faxed from court clerks to prisons are history.
"It's unfathomable to me that a fax could come in and that shave off years of a prison sentence and allow murderers to go free," Soto said.
Soto is one of the five Central Florida lawmakers who sit on the Crime and Justice subcommittee in Tallahassee, calling for senate hearings to delve into what happened at Franklin Correctional Institute.
"I share the same outrage as the rest of our citizens, and that's why when we go up there, there will be heads rolling. There's no doubt about it," Soto said.
Investigators are following up on leads that the men paid someone thousands of dollars to produce the forged documents that got them out.
The men, who had fled the Orlando area after word of their ruse became public, did not know law enforcement was on the way to Panama City. They were waiting in the motel for someone to arrive from Atlanta to take them out of state, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said, adding that authorities don't yet know who that person was or where the convicts planned to go. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is working with Georgia authorities to answer those questions, he said.
Corrections officials also held meetings on Monday with court clerks to discuss how to prevent other inmates from using fake papers to escape.
Bailey said more arrests will be made.
Jenkins and Walker were both serving life sentences at the Franklin Correctional Facility in the Panhandle before they walked free without anyone realizing the paperwork, complete with case numbers and a judge's forged signature, was bogus. The documents seemingly reduced their life sentences to 15 years.
Officials believe at this point that there may be a total of as many as seven forgeries. Aside from Jenkins and Walker, one other inmate, which was a Pinellas County Sheriff's case, managed to escape for one day.
Jenkins was released first on Sept. 27 and registered himself as a felon Sept. 30 in an Orlando jail. Walker was released Oct. 8 and also registered himself with authorities three days later.
Jenkins had been locked up since the 1998 killing and botched robbery of Roscoe Pugh, an Orlando man. It wasn't until Tuesday, when one of Pugh's relatives contacted the state attorney's office to let them know Jenkins had been let out, that authorities knew of the escape.