Law enforcement officials in Florida are pressing a manhunt for two convicted murderers whom officials learned just this week had been a accidentally released from a Florida state prison within the last three weeks.
Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, both 34, walked out of the Franklin Correctional Institution using counterfeit court documents that were signed with a forged signature and processed through the Orange County clerk’s office, according to news reports.
"These two individuals are out. They shouldn't be, and we want to get them back in custody," Orange County Sheriff's Office spokesman Angelo Nieves said, the Associated Press reported. "This shouldn't have happened, but it did, and our concern is to get these individuals into custody."
The sheriff’s office learned of the two inadvertent releases on Tuesday and immediately notified the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the AP said.
Mr. Walker escaped on Oct. 8, and Mr. Jenkins on Sept. 27.
Law enforcement officials believe at least one of the men is currently in Orange County, where both were convicted in unrelated cases. Orange County is approximately five hours away from the Franklin Correctional Facility, located in the panhandle city of Carrabelle.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which processed the falsified documents, is conducting a “vigorous and thorough review” of other modified court orders to make sure there aren’t any other outlying mistakes, Mr. Nieves told CNN.
Florida prison officials have expressed their befuddlement as to how this Hollywood-esque escape came about.
All the paperwork looked normal, said Misty Cash, Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman. "Everything came the way it normally comes," she told the Orlando Sentinel. “Our department followed every protocol and did everything we are supposed to do.”
The orders to release the pair were processed by the Orange County Clerk’s office, and then sent to the Department of Corrections.
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, the AP reported.
"We're kind of like the post office," Ms. Bainbridge said. "It comes in and we move it along."
Orders to modify Walker’s and Jenkin’s sentences both contained the same forged signature of Judge Belvin Perry.
The two escapees have extensive criminal backgrounds.
Walker was convicted of second-degree murder in the April 1999 shooting of 23-year-old Cedric Slater. Walker claims he intended only to scare Mr. Slater, but accidentally shot him.
Jenkins was serving a 15-year sentence for the first-degree murder of Roscoe Pugh. According to court documents, Jenkins and Angelo Pearson attempted to invade Mr. Pugh’s home, and killed Pugh in the process. Mr. Pearson is serving a life sentence at the Wakulla Correctional Institution annex in Crawfordville.
"They committed violent crimes,” Nieves told CNN. “The best thing for them to do is to turn themselves in.”
There are currently 18 escaped prisoners in Florida, according to the Department of Corrections website.