Two recaptured killers who walked away from life terms in a Florida prison had "a lot of help" obtaining forged release papers, and more arrests are coming, the head of the state's law enforcement agency said on Sunday.
The two convicted murderers, released from the Apalachicola Correctional Institute on forged documents that reduced their life-without-parole sentences, were recaptured on Saturday at a motel in Panama City Beach, Florida.
Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker were believed to be waiting to be transported to another state when they were found, said Gerald Bailey, commissioner of the Department of Law Enforcement, at a news briefing.
"They had to have had help, and a lot of help, to get to where they were last night," he said.
After questioning Jenkins and Walker, police were seeking several unidentified "associates" he said.
"While the manhunt is over, there's still a lot that we do not know. I can tell you, there will be more arrests," he said.
Authorities declined to discuss details of how the bogus release papers came to be created, but said an assistant prosecutor grew suspicious of the paperwork that had been signed by officials who do not normally handle sentence reductions.
$8,000 for documents
From now on, the state prison system has told court clerks to check with judges before accepting any sentence-reduction or release papers bearing their signatures, authorities said.
Bailey said two previous attempts at forging release papers had been caught in routine screening procedures.
In this case, investigators have some speculative leads on how the forgery might have been accomplished, he said.
"There is speculation, and underline 'speculation,' that there was a source where, for a certain sum of money, that these documents could be constructed for $8,000," said Bailey. "Whether it's true or not will be determined."
Department of Corrections Commissioner Mike Crews said prisons receive sentence modifications every day, usually to correct errors in crediting "gain time" or other sentencing details, but it is rare that a life sentence would be cut.
Walker was serving life without parole for second-degree murder in the 1999 slaying of Cedric Slater, 23, in Orlando, while Jenkins was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1998 death of Roscoe Pugh in a botched robbery.
"I don't mind telling you, I did a lot of praying for the past five or six days," said Crews. "These were two hardened, convicted felons, and the thought of them being out there in our state caused me great concern."
To protect the investigation, Bailey and Crews would not discuss some details of the forgeries but Crews said: "The documents themselves looked good, they looked official."
'It is embarrassing'
Crews said prison officials planned to work with court clerks on improving security.
"It is embarrassing, but my concentration at this point, and I think every else's here, is that we come up with a process and procedure that prohibits this happening in the future," he said.
Jenkins fled the prison on Sept. 27 and Walker on Oct. 8, and both men had registered at the Orange County courthouse as released felons within three days of their erroneous discharges.
Bailey said the two had been in Bay County, where Panama City Beach is located, for about 48 hours and investigators were piecing together the trail they had taken after they fled the prison.