Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said Tuesday several suspects have been “targeted” for helping two murderers escape from prison by using forged documents. But he added, “there is a way to go” in the investigation.
“There is still a lot we do not know and a lot we have yet to prove,” Bailey told reporters during a mid-day news conference.
After the news conference, Bailey said he hopes to have new information to share before he goes in front of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee in two weeks to address the escapes.
Bailey said the state is widening the scope of its investigation into how Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, both sentenced to life sentences for murder, were able to get out of the Franklin Correctional Institution in Carrabelle (on the Gulf coast south of Tallahassee).
The FDLE and Attorney General Pam Bondi, in conjunction with Big Bend Crime Stoppers, have each offered rewards of up to $10,000 for information about people who helped create and submit the bogus court paperwork for Jenkins and Walker, both 34 and from the Orlando area.
The paperwork, received in the mail by the Orange County clerk of courts, indicated Walker and Jenkins had their life sentences reduced, earning releases.
Bondi, in a release, said an “illegal operation” aided in the escapes.
Walker and Jenkins, who were caught Saturday at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City as they awaited someone from the Atlanta area to transport them out of state, are not cooperating with authorities.
Interviews continue with family members and friends of the inmates, Bailey said.
What the FDLE and others knew about the use of forged documents in attempted escapes is expected to be discussed by the Senate subcommittee.
Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who is chairman of the Senate subcommittee, announced late Sunday that he will hold a hearing on how the escapes occurred and whether there exist any other, as yet undetected, erroneous inmate releases.
Bailey said the use of such fake documents was discussed this summer during talks between the FDLE and state’s 20 state attorneys.
“At that time it had not [risen] to the level that obviously this case has risen too,” Bailey noted.
It remains unknown who submitted the paperwork, how Walker and Jenkins were able to travel from Franklin County after their releases and how widespread the use of false documents has been by inmates.
“We are worried about that and we are doing everything to confirm there is not more out there,” Bailey said.
Bailey said authorities know of at least five other attempted escapes using the same method of faked documents, including two that were in process when discovered. One of the prior attempts was by Jenkins. The attempts have occurred at the Franklin Correctional and Gulf Correctional institutions and the Pinellas County Jail.
The first known attempt using similar faked court papers was in October 2009 in a case involving Nydeed Nashaddai. The papers indicated charges of cashing stolen checks against Nashaddai had been dismissed. Nashaddai was out of jail for about 16 hours before the papers were deemed false and he was apprehended. Nashaddai was sentenced to 20 years for escape and housed at the Franklin facility.
Meanwhile, FDLE and the Department of Corrections are also combing through several years of inmate records statewide to determine if others used fraudulent orders to con their way from behind bars.
Bailey said forensic and digital experts are reviewing the forged papers, computer equipment from the Franklin Correctional Institution library and an iPad and mobile phone that were located in the motel room where Jenkins and Walker were picked up.
On Monday, Ninth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Belvin Perry, Jr., issued an order that changes procedures for dealing with criminal-court documents to try to prevent any other inmates from making similar escapes.
Perry advised the Orange County and Osceola County clerks of court that “effective immediately” they must verify with a judge or judicial assistant that an order was issued before the clerk processes and transmits the order to the appropriate Department of Corrections facility.
Perry’s directive follows letters sent Friday from the Department of Corrections to chief judges 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 sentencing.
Jenkins, serving a life sentence on a first-degree murder conviction from Orange County, received his release from Franklin Correctional Institution on Sept. 27 by using fake documents that indicated his sentence had been reduced.
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.
The forged documents used by Walker and Jenkins included the seal of the Orange County clerk of court’s office and signatures of numerous officials from the circuit, including Perry and Orange County State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton.
Perry and Ashton both gained national fame through the 2011 Casey Anthony murder trial, which has made their signatures easy to locate online due to the high-profile case.
“Absent the measure of redacting signatures and seals, cooperation between the Court and agencies to diligently follow uniform internal policies will help to ensure verification of an entire court document as legitimate before any action is taken,” Perry wrote in his order.
Perry also ordered the clerks of court in both counties to no longer accept criminal-case orders that have been placed in public drop-off boxes. Also, he ordered clerks and prosecutors to establish procedures to ensure the validity of filings indicating the state is no longer pursuing or prosecuting cases.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida