Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Public safety

2 killers escape North Florida prison with bogus documents

ORLANDO — At first glance, the paperwork ordering the release of two convicted murderers serving life sentences looked legitimate.

So the guards at Franklin Correctional Institution in North Florida put one of the men on a bus and opened the gates for the other to ride away with family. Authorities now say prison officials were duped by the court documents, which included a fake motion from a prosecutor and a judge's forged signature.

As prison officials, prosecutors and courts across the state scrambled to make sure no one else had been mistakenly released, police searched for the two men who already have a head start. Joseph Jenkins was let out Sept. 27, and Charles Walker was freed Oct. 8.

Chief Circuit Judge Belvin 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 sentencing reduction, and even more uncommon for the request to come from prosecutors.

"One of the things we have never taken a close look at is the verification of a particular document to make sure it's the real McCoy," said Perry, whose name was forged on the paperwork.

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

State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton said he learned Jenkins had been released when Pugh's family contacted his office. They reviewed the paperwork and found that it was a fake, then notified law enforcement. Later, they discovered Walker's release documents were also bogus. The paperwork also forged prosecutors' signatures, Ashton said.

It wasn't clear exactly who dummied up the paperwork.

Upon hearing of Jenkins' release, his former attorney, Bob Wesley, said he was sure "it wasn't a cunning master plan."

Wesley, now the public defender for metro Orlando, recalled his client's crime and said Jenkins broke into a home of someone he knew and was "not smart enough to pull his ski mask down."

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.

Walker's then-defense attorney, Robert LeBlanc, now a judge in Orlando, refused to comment.

In a statement, Corrections Secretary Michael Crews said his agency was reviewing records to make sure no other inmates had been released in a similar fashion.

Florida state Rep. Darryl Rouson, the Democratic ranking member of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, said the Legislature should review the agency's procedures.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott said he was focused on the manhunt.

"The first thing you do when something like this happens is solve the problem you have at hand," he said. "We need to apprehend these individuals, and that's what we're doing."

In both cases, the forged paperwork included motions from prosecutors to correct "illegal" sentences, accompanied by orders allegedly filed by Perry within the last couple of months. The orders granted a 15-year sentence. Perry is best known for presiding over the Casey Anthony murder trial in 2011.

Leesa Bainbridge, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Clerk of Courts, said the office moves thousands of pages of court documents a day and has no way of authenticating those that pass to other agencies.

"We're kind of like the post office," Bainbridge said. "It comes in and we move it along."

Bainbridge said officials in the clerk's office plan to talk about what measures, if any, can be put in place to make sure something similar doesn't happen again.

"This is something we take very seriously," she said. "We don't find this funny."

Comments
Police: St. Pete man who pried a safe out of the wall in custody

Police: St. Pete man who pried a safe out of the wall in custody

ST. PETERSBURG — It took more than an hour for a 25-year-old man to break into a restaurant, pry a safe out of the wall, drag it through the back and then wrestle it into his car, according to police.That was last week. Michael Murphy was arrested Tu...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Search underway for North Carolina man missing from Tampa-based Carnival Paradise

Search underway for North Carolina man missing from Tampa-based Carnival Paradise

The U.S. Coast Guard was searching Tuesday for a 50-year-old North Carolina man who reportedly fell off a Tampa-based cruise ship.The Coast Guard Key West received a call from the cruise ship Carnival Paradise about 10 a.m. saying the man, Brian Lamo...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Deputies: 10th-grader brings loaded gun to Bradenton high school

Deputies: 10th-grader brings loaded gun to Bradenton high school

A Bradenton Bayshore High School student faces charges after he brought a gun on campus on Tuesday, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.Around 11:45 a.m., school resource officers were alerted by school staff that the student, a 10th-gra...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Police swarm Panama City street in apparent shootout

Police swarm Panama City street in apparent shootout

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Multiple law enforcement agencies have surrounded a Panama City apartment building where an active shooter is barricaded inside.City spokeswoman Caitlyn Lawrence says it’s still an active situation. The suspect has been firing on ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
FedEx driver, 22, dies in crash on Interstate 4

FedEx driver, 22, dies in crash on Interstate 4

TAMPA — A 22-year-old FedEx driver died on Interstate 4 Tuesday when a tire blew out on his freight truck, which veered into the path of a Chevrolet Volt, state troopers said. Two teen girls in the Volt survived the 10:21 a.m. crash. A photo shows ci...
Published: 05/22/18
Crime in Florida, Tampa Bay region decreased in 2017, data show

Crime in Florida, Tampa Bay region decreased in 2017, data show

Crime in Florida reached a 47-year low in 2017, according to state figures released Tuesday and touted as a "major announcement" by a Republican governor determined to win a U.S. Senate seat. The state’s total crime rate dropped by 6 percent from 201...
Published: 05/22/18

FDLE: Pasco couple scammed elderly employer out of $480,000

TAMPA — A Pasco County couple face dozens of charges after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said they stole more than $480,000 from their elderly employer.Chet Alan Ragsdale, 45, was arrested Monday on 28 counts of grand theft, 25 counts of ...
Published: 05/21/18
4 sinkholes open in The Villages retirement community

4 sinkholes open in The Villages retirement community

THE VILLAGES — Four sinkholes have opened up in a fast-growing retirement community in Florida, including one in front of a home that was abandoned months ago because of an earlier sinkhole. A spokeswoman for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office says t...
Published: 05/21/18
Florida man caught walking around naked with a bottle of cooking oil, deputies say

Florida man caught walking around naked with a bottle of cooking oil, deputies say

A Gulf Breeze man walked around a neighborhood naked while carrying a bottle of cooking oil, Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s deputies said.The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a homeowner at 8:30 p.m. on May 17 saying home security...
Published: 05/21/18
A man punched a pregnant, deaf woman and her service dog on a plane ride to Florida, police say

A man punched a pregnant, deaf woman and her service dog on a plane ride to Florida, police say

A man is accused of attacking a deaf couple and their service dog while they were travelling on a plane headed toward Orlando.The incident happened as Matthew Silvay, 30, and Hazel Ramirez, 21, were on Frontier Flight 1752 as it left Colorado Springs...
Published: 05/21/18