TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Two convicted killers who used forged documents to win their release from a Panhandle prison had a cellphone while behind bars that may have helped them plot their escape, a top state law-enforcement official said Monday.
Investigators are combing through thousands of phone calls and text messages that Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker made before they managed to fool authorities into releasing them, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey told legislators.
Jenkins and Walker were captured earlier this month at a Panama City motel after authorities learned that the two men walked free from prison after using a fake court order that seemingly reduced their life sentences to 15 years.
Bailey also told a state Senate panel that investigators were examining computer hard drives and printers used by the two men while serving at Franklin Correctional Institution. He said the information was helping law-enforcement agencies pinpoint additional suspects.
“We have other arrests on the horizon,” Bailey said.
Bailey told state senators, however, that even though the two men had access to a phone while in prison, authorities do not believe they were helped by anyone working for the state’s prison system or for the Orange County clerk’s office, which is where the bogus paperwork was processed.
The smuggling of cellphones to prisoners from family and friends is a major problem in the state’s prison system, Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews said after the meeting.
The escape of Jenkins and Walker has prompted the state to take several steps to ensure there isn’t a widespread problem with the use of forged documents. Crews said that 40 employees in his office were reviewing thousands of court orders to make sure they were legitimate.
Jenkins was released first on Sept. 27 and registered himself as a felon Sept. 30 in an Orlando jail. Walker was released Oct. 8 and also registered himself with authorities three days later.
Family members said they thought the releases were legitimate and that the convicts even spent time with their relatives before they disappeared. Jenkins had been locked up since the 1998 killing and botched robbery of Roscoe Pugh, an Orlando man. It wasn’t until one of Pugh’s relatives contacted the state attorney’s office to let them know Jenkins had been let out that authorities knew of the escape.
Since the escapes became public, the Department of Corrections has been checking directly with judges to confirm court orders that call for inmate releases. But one DOC official said that such a practice is a “stopgap” measure that cannot be continued for the long term.
Florida’s court clerks are discussing a possible solution that would call for the creation of a secure electronic-filing system that would limit access to the records.
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