As authorities hunt for two killers who were mistakenly freed by bogus court documents, prison officials and prosecutors across Florida scrambled to make sure no other inmates had been let out early.

The review comes three weeks after convicted murderer Joseph Jenkins walked out of prison, despite a life sentence.  A week after he was let go, Charles Walker, who was also serving life, also was released.

It’s not clear exactly who worked up the fake documents ordering their release. Authorities said the paperwork in both cases was filed in the last couple of months and included forged signatures from the same prosecutor’s office and Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry.  The documents also called for 15-year sentences.

Perry said Thursday there were several red flags that should have attracted the attention of the court clerk’s office or the Corrections Department.  Namely, it’s rare for a judge to order a sentence reduction, and even more uncommon for the request to come from prosecutors.

In Florida, Jenkins was let out Sept. 27, and Walker was freed Oct. 8.

Jenkins, 34, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 1998 killing and botched robbery of Roscoe Pugh, an Orlando man.

Walker was convicted of second-degree murder in a 1999 slaying in Orange County. He told investigators that 23-year-old Cedric Slater was bullying him and he fired three shots intending to scare him.

The Department of Corrections was reviewing records to make sure no other inmates had been released in a similar fashion.

Another man serving a life sentence for attempting to kill a law enforcement officer was also scheduled to be released using forged documents, but an investigator discovered the scheme before any release.

In 2010, a Wisconsin killer forged documents that shortened his prison sentence and he walked free, only to be captured a week later.  In 2012, a prisoner in Pennsylvania was let out with bogus court documents, and the mistake was only discovered months later.

In both cases in Florida, the forged paperwork included motions from prosecutors to correct “illegal” sentences, accompanied by orders allegedly filed by Judge Perry within the last couple of months.  The orders granted a 15-year sentence. Judge Perry presided over the Casey Anthony murder trial in 2011.

A spokesperson for the Orange County Clerk of Courts, said the office moves thousands of pages of court documents a day.

What I find disarming about this is that there seems to be no method of verification in place to prevent this from happening, both in the past and also in the future.  If officials were able to determine that these alleged court documents were fakes after the fact, why were they not found to be fraudulent prior to these murderers allowed to walk out of prison?

Inmates are crafty and innovative, and many know their way around court documents because of court ordered “law libraries” located in our state prisons.  There are also laws preventing correctional staff from reading any legal material including paperwork written by inmates for future submission to the courts.

This could be a very elaborate scheme by any number of inmates and its full scale is yet to be discovered.  It could also be any outside operation devised by someone who has a vast knowledge of the court system and the corrections department.  Prison staff could also be involved in this scam.  It will be interesting to see if state officials will ever figure it out, completely.

In the meantime, these two murders need to be recaptured quickly and safeguards need to be put in place so that this occurrence does not happen again.  It is kind of poetic justice that murders are allowed to walk free in the same state that believes that it is ok to restrict the right of other people to vote…what’s the irony in that.

 

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