Two convicted killers who escaped from a Florida prison with the help of falsified documents appeared in court Sunday as officials vowed to arrest whoever helped them flee.
Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, both 34, were to be interrogated as investigators sought to figure out who helped them walk out of a correctional facility, officials said.
The pair were taken into custody Saturday night at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City Beach, Fla., concluding a statewide search that involved local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
“While the manhunt is over, there is still a lot that we do not know. I can tell you, there will be more arrests,” Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said at a Sunday news conference.
“We will be backtracking to those who helped carry out this fraud, and along the way we will be looking closely at anyone who may have helped harbor these fugitives,” Bailey said.
Jenkins and Walker are being held without bail. They are scheduled to return to court on Friday.
Despite serving sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the two managed to secure fake documents, complete with case numbers and a judge’s forged signature, officials say. Jenkins was released from the Franklin Correctional Facility on Sept. 27 and Walker left the same facility on Oct. 8.
The fake documents said that each sentence had been reduced to 15 years, prompting the early releases. Jenkins was convicted of first-degree murder from a 1998 botched robbery. Walker was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1999 killing of a man he claimed was bullying him.
After their escape, both men returned to Orange County, about 300 miles south of the prison. They registered as convicted felons and submitted their fingerprints in accordance with the typical procedure for legitimately released inmates.
The early release elated their relatives but alarmed the families of their victims, who were notified of the release via mail and questioned authorities as to why the life sentences were drastically reduced. Prosecutors reviewed the prisoners’ paperwork and noticed the forged documents, setting off the manhunt.
To track down the escapees’ whereabouts, Bailey said investigators interviewed ex-girlfriends, relatives and friends, including those who visited the men in prison and wired money into their commissary accounts.
“The key piece of this was an individual or individuals that had made deposits into their canteen accounts at the prison,” Bailey said.
Frank Chiumento, chief of the U.S. Marshals Service for Florida and the Caribbean, told the Associated Press that the men were monitored for 2½ days before authorities arrived at their hotel room door.
At the time of their arrest, an associate of the men was en route from Atlanta to take them to another location, Bailey said.