Two convicted killers serving life in a Florida prison were mistakenly freed in the last three weeks after forged court documents reduced their sentences, authorities said. Relatives picked up one inmate while the other was given a bus ticket and dropped off at a bus station.
Now a manhunt is on for Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, both 34, who were released separately from the Carrabelle prison in the Panhandle. Jenkins was let out Sept. 27; Walker was freed Oct. 8.
"These two individuals are out. They shouldn't be, and we want to get them back in custody," sheriff's office spokesman Angelo Nieves said. "This shouldn't have happened, but it did, and our concern is to get these individuals into custody."
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement learned about the mistake Tuesday, though it's not clear exactly how authorities found out about the error.
Jenkins was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 1998 killing of an Orlando man. Jenkins and his cousin, Angelo Pearson, were convicted in the shooting death of Roscue Pugh.
Upon hearing of the Jenkins' release, his former attorney, Bob Wesley, said he was sure "it wasn't a cunning master plan."
Wesley, now an Orlando public defender, recalled his client's crime and said Jenkins broke into a home of someone he knew and was "not smart enough to pull his ski mask down."
Walker was convicted of second-degree murder in a 1999 slaying in Orange County. He told investigators that 23-year-old Cedric Slater was bullying him and he fired three shots intending to scare him.
Walker's then-defense attorney, Robert LeBlanc, now a judge in Orlando, refused to comment.
The Florida Department of Corrections said the men were released from the Carrabelle prison based on forged documents filed through the Orange County clerk of courts.
One man was picked up by his family and the other was given a bus ticket and brought to a bus station by the Department of Corrections, spokeswoman Misty Cash said. She said prison officials routinely work with inmates who are getting out to make sure they get to their next destination.
"If they need a bus ticket, we'll provide that for them," she said.
She wasn't sure which inmate got the bus ticket.
In both cases, the forged paperwork included motions from an Orlando prosecutor to correct "illegal" sentences, accompanied by orders granting the motions from Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry, who presided over the Casey Anthony murder trial in 2011.
Leesa Bainbridge, a spokeswoman for the Orange County clerk of courts, said the office moves thousands of pages of court documents a day and currently has no way of authenticating those that pass through to other agencies.
"We're kind of like the post office," Bainbridge said. "It comes in and we move it along."
In a statement, Corrections Secretary Michael Crews said his agency was "conducting a vigorous and thorough review of releases that were based on modified court orders received from Orange County to ensure that there are no other inmates who have been released based on falsified documents."
State, county and prison authorities were searching for the men.
"We're working with other law enforcement partners on how this could have happened, but right now our primary focus is on the manhunt," said FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. "We are in the very early stages of the investigation to determine what happened."