TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/News Service of Florida) – Despite two escaped murderers released through forged documents being found and back in custody, the head of the state’s law enforcement agency said additional steps are being put in place to prevent a similar incident from happening again.
State lawmakers have called for an in-depth review of the escapes.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey admitted there is no guarantee at this point that the two are the only inmates who have exploited a “gap” in the paperwork process to scam their way to a similar release.
“I can’t tell you with 100 percent degree of certainty that it hasn’t been done before; that will be part of the review,” Bailey said after a press conference Sunday.
Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, both 34, were caught about 6:40 p.m. at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City while they were waiting for someone to transport them out of state.
The escapes drew a lot of attention from state lawmakers.
Gov. Rick Scott told reporters that “once we resolve this and apprehend these individuals, then we’ll find out what we need to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who chairs the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, has indicated in media reports that the Senate will request a review on how the release could have been pulled off.
Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, the ranking Democrat on the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, has issued a statement calling for the House to hold hearings on the incident.
“This is unconscionable, almost unthinkable,” Rouson said in the release. “People have faith in government that it will keep the peace and justice. If these two convicted murderers were let go by the Florida Department of Corrections, something must change.”
Bailey and state Corrections Secretary Michael Crews told reporters Sunday that they have been reviewing release procedures and will meet with the Florida Association of Court Clerks & Comptrollers on Monday to outline additional steps that will be implemented in the inmate release process.
“It is embarrassing, but my concentration at this point, and as I think it is for everyone else here, is making sure that we come up with a process and procedure that prohibits this from happening in the future,” Crews said.
Crews said letters were sent Friday to chief justices and judges in each circuit that when an inmate’s sentence is modified, the FDLE will require the judge whose name is on the document to attest in a follow-up check to verify the change in the sentencing.
“We will now require before the release of any inmate, where we receive a modified order that deviates down a reduction in sentence from the original sentence, and certainly those that rise to the level of emergency releases, that is going to require an attestation from the judge that they in fact issued that order,” Crews said.
Crews said there are “a few thousand” modified orders annually, and previously corrections officials simply complied with the paperwork they received.
Bailey said the FDLE does know of at least two other occasions fake documents were submitted to win releases for inmates, but those attempts failed.
Bailey said additional arrests are expected and he estimated that $8,000 was spent to acquire the “official looking” documents.
“They had to have had help, and a lot of help, to get to where they were last night,” Bailey said.
Jenkins, 34, serving a life sentence on a first-degree murder conviction from Orange County, used fake documents to win his release from the Franklin Correctional Institution on Sept. 27.
Walker, serving a life sentence on a second-degree murder conviction also from Orange County, used the same means to get out of the Franklin prison Oct. 8.
Bailey said law enforcement received a tip from an associate of the inmates about their location.
Jenkins and Walker had been in Panama City for about 48 hours before being apprehended.
Both could face charges of escape, but Crews said that since Jenkins and Walker are already serving life sentences “there isn’t much more we can do” to them.
“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”