Local 6 learns of 8th prison escape attempt with forged documents

Gerald Joe tried to get out of Franklin Correctional Institute in January, Local 6 finds

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - Local 6 learned Wednesday that another convicted murderer from Central Florida tried to escape prison using phony court documents. The attempt occurred seven months before two Florida inmates escaped from the same facility using forged court orders.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman said the agency was not originally told about Gerald Joe's attempted escape. Joe, 33, is serving a life sentence at Franklin Correctional Institution for shooting and killing a Brevard County man during a drug deal in 1999.

On Jan. 31, a motion to correct illegal sentence arrived in the Brevard County court clerk's office. Joe's signature appears on the document, which indicates it was mailed from the prison. That same day, the clerk received an apparent court order granting Joe's motion and reducing his 30-year sentence for second degree murder down to just 15 years for manslaughter. The document bears the signature of Brevard County Circuit Court Judge John Griesbaum, which court officials later determined to be a forgery.

A court clerk employee became suspicious of the wording of the court order and alerted a supervisor, according to court officials. Records show the clerk's office immediately notified the Brevard County Sheriff's Office, which took possession of the forged documents.

After investigating the case in February, a Brevard County Sheriff's spokeswoman said the agency forwarded paperwork to the State Attorney's Office for possible prosecution. 

On Wednesday, a representative from the Brevard-Seminole State Attorney's Office told Local 6 the office did not recall receiving documentation about the case. However, on Thursday, the State Attorney's Office located documentation confirming it did receive the case and decided not to prosecute Joe.  After consulting with Judge Griesbaum, Intake Division Chief Michael Hunt wrote, "the available evidence is insufficient to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, even though the defendant would have been the beneficiary of the fraudulent order."

Joe was not charged with any crimes related to forgery or attempted escape.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was never informed of Joe's attempted escape in early 2013, according to an agency spokeswoman, and was only recently made aware of the situation. Joe's case was not among the seven known escape attempts mentioned by FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey during a Tuesday news conference.

The FDLE said it has been receiving similar tips of other attempted escapes since Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker escaped from the Franklin Correctional Institute in September and October. Both were serving life sentences for murders that occurred in Orange County. Authorities arrested the convicted murderers at a Panama City Saturday.

Walker was not granted bond on Wednesday during his first appearance at the Orange County Jail in Orlando.

Authorities say at least seven inmates in Florida have used forged documents in attempts to escape from prison, including Walker and Jenkins, who were mistakenly freed because of the paperwork.

Watch Local 6 for more on this story.

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