A tip from an “associate of one of the inmates” led Florida law enforcement to two men who escaped prison by way of bogus release documents, and investigators hope to find and arrest the people who helped the men hide, officials said Sunday.
Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, both 34, were arrested on Saturday night at a Panama City Beach motel by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Marshall's Service, after a manhunt that spanned jurisdictions and several days.
"They had to have had help — and a lot of help — to get to where they were last night," Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said at a Sunday morning news conference.
If the men hadn’t been caught, a “transport” was on its way to the motel to take them to another location, Bailey said investigators discovered. "There will be more arrests," he added.
Both Walker and Jenkins were sentenced to life in prison on unrelated murder charges, but they were released when fake court documents alleged their sentences had been revoked.
In addition to searching for people who harbored or aided the fugitives, Bailey said investigators were interviewing the escapees, examining prison printers and computers and analyzing DNA from the documents in an effort to catch who originally issued and handled the paperwork.
Bailey said the initial stage of the search suggested that the documents may have been forged for a cost of $8,000, but "whether that is true or not will be determined," he said.
Walker was freed from Franklin Correctional Institution in Carabelle, Fla. On Sept. 27 and Franklin walked from the same prison on Oct. 8. However, officials did not become aware of the escapes until Walker’s victim’s mother notified the state attorney’s office on Tuesday after receiving a letter notifying her that Walker was out of prison.
Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Cruz said the mishap was “embarrassing,” but the department followed procedure and determined that both of the release forms were authentic. “The documents themselves looked good. They looked official,” he said.
As a result of the incident, the Florida Department of Corrections announced Friday that they changed protocol to require a judge's verification on any order calling for the early release of an inmate.
Both men visited with their families and followed Florida law by registering as felons before disappearing. Jenkins’ uncle, Henry Pearson said the family threw Jenkins a birthday party on Oct. 1, but he didn’t show up. “On behalf of our family, I am asking that you turn yourself in to the nearest appropriate authorities so that we can end this episode of our lives,” he said.
Four hours later, Jenkins and Walker were arrested peacefully when more than 20 law enforcement officials descended on Room 227 at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn and called over a loudspeaker for them to surrender, Bailey said.
Jenkins and Walker appeared in court Sunday morning, and each was charged with one count of escape and held without bond until their next court appearances Friday.