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Fla. Escapees' Fake Court Orders Spur Crackdown

By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 21, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Two convicted Florida murderers who used fake court orders to temporarily escape from prison were recaptured on Saturday.

Convicted murderers Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker were apprehended at a hotel in Panama City Beach, where authorities believe they were waiting to be transported to another state.

The pair's escape from a Florida prison was made possible by counterfeit court documents -- a security breach that has prompted the Florida correctional system to crack down on court orders.

Forged Release Papers

Both men were released on the strength of forged court orders calling for a correction of their sentences. The New York Post reports that Jenkins and Walker were serving life sentences; they somehow procured documents that "seemingly reduced their life sentences to 15 years."

These kind of court orders aren't all that uncommon. For example, when sentencing laws change or a criminal appeal goes well, a court will order a prisoner's sentence to be reduced.

Florida Corrections Secretary Michael Crews stated that his department receives a "few thousand" of these orders each year, although early release for murder convicts is "rare," reports the Post.

Although both men were serving life sentences without parole, they will likely have new sentences added to their current time for their fraudulent escapes.

New Procedure: Verifying Orders

The fake court order, complete with Chief Judge Belvin Perry's signature, was likely a composite of past digital court documents, including some from the infamous Casey Anthony trial, reports Reuters.

In Florida, forging public records -- like court orders -- in order to defraud someone is a third degree felony with a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison. According to the Post, Florida investigators are pursuing a tip that someone offered "to forge documents for the prisoners for $8,000." There have been at least two other recent cases in Florida involving prisoners and forged documents.

Reuters reports that in addition to seeking those who aided the prisoners, the prison system has revised its protocol: Court clerks will now verify each signature with a judge prior to accepting any release order or sentence modification.

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