Florida killers who escaped using forged documents are recaptured

Two convicted killers who had walked out of a Florida prison using forged release papers were recaptured Saturday, law enforcement officials said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement along with the U.S. Marshals Service arrested Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, both 34, at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City, Fla., officials said in a statement. 

Around 20 members of a task force surrounded room 227 about 5:20 p.m. local time, instructing Jenkins and Walker via loud speaker to come out. About a minute later, both men came out with their hands in the air and were taken into custody without incident, according to officials from the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.

Both fugitives were taken to the Bay County Jail. They were expected to have their first court appearance Sunday morning via video conference.

Jenkins, who was found guilty of first-degree murder in a botched home invasion in 1998, was released from the Franklin Correctional Institution in Carabelle, Fla., on Sept. 27. Walker, who was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999, was released from the same prison on Oct. 8. Both men were serving life terms. 

Within days of leaving prison, Jenkins and Walker registered as felons with the Orange County Jail, as required by Florida law. They signed paperwork, were fingerprinted and photographed before walking out without raising any alarms. Had one of the murder victim's families not contacted prosecutors, authorities might not have known about the mistaken releases. 

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings thanked those involved in the investigation and capture of the two men.

"I would also personally like to thank all personnel in this multijurisdictional effort who joined together to apprehend these individuals, the fact that they are back in custody is indeed good news," the sheriff said in a statement.


Earlier Saturday, as a manhunt was still under way for the fugitives, the two men's families gathered with police at a news conference and called for their surrender.

Lillie Danzy, Walker’s mother, said her family believed their prayers had been answered when they were contacted by the state Department of Corrections with news that Walker was scheduled for immediate emergency release that Tuesday evening. Henry Pearson, Jenkins' uncle, said his family was also overjoyed when they heard Jenkins was to be released.

Pearson said he and his family drove six hours to prison to pick up Jenkins on Sept. 27. But a few days later, when the family threw him a birthday party on Oct. 1., Jenkins was a no-show. 

On Saturday, Pearson told the AP that a law enforcement agent called his home unexpectedly and let Jenkins talk to his wife.

"He just said that he was OK and that he loved us," Pearson said. "We have a great sense of relief because we did not know how this would end up."

State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton said the family of Roscoe Pugh, who was murdered by Jenkins, contacted his office, prompting him to review the paperwork and discover it was bogus, then notify law enforcement, The Associated Press reported.

Evangelina Kearse, whose son, Cedric Slater, was murdered by Walker, said she went to the State Attorney's Office to see why her son's killer was out of jail -- and officials there were unaware of Walker's release.

In each case, the falsified paperwork bore the signatures of a judge, an assistant prosecutor in the State Attorney's Office and a judicial assistant.

It is unclear who filed the forged documents for the two men. Jenkins had tried once before, in 2011, to escape with bogus papers, officials have said -- but the counterfeit document got flagged and he wasn't released.

Because of the latest incident, the court and prison systems are changing the way such releases are verified. 

NBC News' Daniella Silva contributed to this report.