Escaped Florida inmates arrested in Panama City motel

Posted at 5:06 PM, Oct 19, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-19 19:06:53-04

By Chelsea J. Carter. Greg Botelho and John Couwels

(CNN) — Florida authorities on Saturday evening arrested two convicted murderers who had been on the lam after being released from prison with forged documents, a state agency said.

Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins were taken into custody “without incident” at 6:40 p.m. at Panama City’s Coconut Grove Motor Inn, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said.

Members of that agency and the U.S. Marshals Service found and detained the two men, the agency said.

The state Department of Corrections — which mistakenly released the men though it has insisted through no fault of its own — said little about the arrests.

“We are, of course, happy they have been taken into custody,” agency spokeswoman Jessica Carey said.

Authorities have been searching for Walker and Jenkins, both 34, after investigators discovered forged motions to reduce their respective sentences and forged court orders granting the requests.

Earlier Saturday, family members of both men appealed for them to turn themselves in.

“We just want you to surrender yourself to someone you trust who will bring you back in safely,” Walker’s mother, Lillie Danzy, said at a news conference outside the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in Orlando.

Jenkins’ uncle, Henry Pearson, also urged the men to give their families some peace.

Both families denied any knowledge in the escape plan, telling investigators and reporters they first learned of the releases in telephone calls from the Franklin Correctional Institution with news they could pick up their family member.

Danzy appears to have questioned the call, telephoning the prison twice to make sure it was legitimate.

“The family believed their prayers had been answered,” a spokeswoman for Danzy said.

The two men, according to family members, disappeared shortly after their return.

In September 1998, Jenkins killed Roscoe Pugh Jr. during a home-invasion robbery attempt.

Six months later, Cedric Slater was gunned down on an Orlando street corner — shot dead, a jury determined, by Walker.

Both killers were convicted and sentenced to life behind bars without the possibility of parole within two years of their crime. While it’s not known whether they knew each other, they were at the same prison in North Carrabelle in Florida’s Panhandle.

Jenkins left there on September 27, and Walker left on October 8, according to authorities. They had motions indicating the sentences had been reduced, as well as court orders granting the request. Investigators later discovered these documents were forged.

The legal-looking documents contained bogus reproductions of several key players’ signatures, including those of the Orlando-area State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton or the assistant state attorney and Judge Belvin Perry. They bore the seal of the Orange County clerk of court’s office.

Perry told CNN his signature is easy to find online on documents related to the high-profile trial of Casey Anthony. Anthony was acquitted in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.

“People, particularly people with criminal minds, come up with ingenious ways to beat the system,” Perry said. “They have nothing but time on their hands to think of things.”

Prosecutors first learned about what happened after a member of Walker’s family contacted them, Ashton said.

An October 8 letter from the Department of Corrections to Slater’s mother, Evangelina Kearse, notified her a “court order and amended sentence caused (Walker’s) sentence to expire.”

“Please be aware that recent actions causing the release of this offender are beyond our control. Nevertheless, we apologize for the delay in this message,” it said.

Both Walker and Jenkins appeared to play by the rules after their release. They both went to the Orange County jail to register as felons — Jenkins on September 30, Walker on October 11 — as required by law.

While their releases may have initially seemed legitimate, the two convicts later were classified as escapees.

CNN’s Nick Valencia, John Zarrella, Kim Segal and David Simpson contributed to this report.

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