A manhunt is underway in central Florida where law enforcement officials have launched an all-hands-on-deck search for two convicted killers serving life sentences who were accidentally released from state prison.
According to the Orange County sheriff's office, Joseph Jenkins was released on Sept. 27 from the Franklin Correctional Institution. A month later, on Oct. 8, Charles Walker was released from the same facility. Forged documents ordered reduced sentences for the two.
The judge whose name is on the forged documents is Belvin Perry, Orange County chief judge, who presided over the Casey Anthony case. Perry's office told ABC News the judge's signature was forged in the paperwork calling for reduced sentences for the convicted killers.
While the false documents had problems, Perry told WFTV, the ABC affiliate in Orlando, the one thing that was correct was his signature.
"It is quite evident that someone forged a court document, filed a motion, and that someone with the aid of a computer, lifted my signature off previous signed documents, which are public reports, affixed that to the document, sent it to the clerk's office. It was processed and forwarded to doc and the defendant ended up being released," Perry told WFTV, the ABC affiliate in Orlando.
"I have never seen anything like this," Perry told ABC News' Pierre Thomas. "You have to give them an A for being imaginative and effective."
The men were convicted and serving time for separate crimes. Jenkins, 34, was in jail on a 1998 first-degree murder conviction; he killed a father of six. Charles Walker, also 34, was serving a life sentence for a second-degree murder committed -- he shot a 23-year-old man -- in 1999.
While Perry may "have never seen anything like this," this is not the first time a prison inmate forged documents to get released.
A press release issued by State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton on Thursday tells of a current prosecution of Jeffrey Forbes for "forgery, uttering a forgery and attempted escape using a similar scheme." His plans were thwarted this past spring, however, when a detective on the case was searching the database and "came upon the surprising information that Mr. Forbes was scheduled to be released .... notwithstanding his life imprisonment sentence for the attempted first degree murder of a law enforcement officer." Another forgery, it turned out.
The State Attorney's Office on Wednesday ordered his prosecutors to review their records to make sure no one else they'd prosecuted had "filed similar forged documents or other suspicious court activity."
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was not notified of the mistake until Tuesday, according to the sheriff's office who, in a press release, stated the men were released as a result of forged paperwork filed at the Orange County Clerk of Courts.
In a phone interview with WFTV, Jessica Cary of the Florida Department of Corrections, said, "We don't know how this happened. However, upon the release of the inmates, we had followed all policies and procedures."
Where the release documents originated is unclear and is being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. ABC News obtained a copy of the documents from the Orange County Clerk's Office. Officials there denied ABC's request for an interview. But, according to Lisa Bainbridge, director of communications for the county clerk's office, the approval for release documents did not originate from the clerk's office; rather, documents reducing a sentence originate in a judge's office.
Bainbridge tells ABC News that in the wake of the mistaken release, her office will review policies for reviewing and processing documents.
The accidental release of the men set in play a manhunt with several central Florida law enforcement agencies assisting in the search. The Orange County police and the sheriff's department believe the men are still in the Orlando area.
"We believe these people to be dangerous. They're out. We want to let them know that they should turn themselves in," Orange County Sheriff public information officer Capt. Angelo Nieves tells local ABC affiliate, WFTV in Orlando.
Anyone with information on the men is urged to contact the Orange County, Florida Sheriff's Office.
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