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Monday, August 14, 2023

Prison Escape By Computer

     Inmates have been known to tunnel, climb, sneak, saw, assault and bribe their way out of prisons and jails. But in central Florida a pair of convicted murderers managed to escape by forging court documents.

     On September 27, 2013, an official with the Florida Department of Corrections ordered convicted killer Joseph Jenkins released from the Franklin Correctional Institution where he had been serving a life sentence. In 1997 Jenkins murdered Roscoe Pugh in an Orlando robbery that went bad. The 34-year-old's ticket to freedom was a phony court document that reduced his life sentence to fifteen years. The release order bore the signature of Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry. The forged corrections paperwork included a motion filed by a local prosecutor in support of the new sentence. The phony documents had been processed by the Orange County Clerk of Courts Office.

     On October 8, 2013 another convicted murderer serving a life sentence at the Franklin County prison near Tallahassee walked out of the prison. Charles Walker had killed Cedric Slater in 1998. At his trial, Walker claimed that because the victim bullied him, he fired three shots to scare him off. Instead of scaring Slater, Walker shot him dead. The Orlando jury found Walker guilty of second-degree murder.

     Corrections authorities released the 34-year-old Walker after receiving the same set of forged documents that had freed Joseph Jenkins. It was extremely rare for a trial judge, in cases involving convictions affirmed on appeal, to order reduced sentences. Moreover, prosecutors rarely supported shortened sentences. To say that someone at the Florida Department of Corrections was asleep at the switch would be an understatement. After their releases, both men went to the Orange County Jail where they registered as felons as required by law.

     According to investigators with the Florida Department of Corrections, the forging lifers had either been helped by a jailhouse lawyer with computer skills or by an outside person with paralegal experience.

     Judge Belvin Perry told an Associated Press reporter that "Someone with the aid of a computer lifted my signature off previously signed documents, which are public record." [Judge Perry, in 2011, presided over the Casey Anthony trial. As a result his signature was available on public documents and accessible online.]

     According to Judge Perry, "In my 35 years in the judicial system, I have never seen the state of Florida file a motion to correct an illegal sentence. One of the things we have never taken a close look at is the verification of a particular document to make sure it is the real McCoy." 
      
     At 6:40 PM on October 19, 2013, U. S. Marshals and officers with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City. A tip from a person who knew both men led to their arrests. 

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