(ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.) — Authorities are launching what they call an electronic dragnet in hopes of tracking down the two convicted killers who escaped a Florida state prison by forging release documents.
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, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Forged documents ordered reduced sentences for the two.
Officials are calling on the public to aid in the massive manhunt to track down the two men, posting billboards along with TV, radio and online ads across the state hoping to elicit any information of their whereabouts, and hoping to attract media attention to aid in the all-hands-on-deck search.
U.S. Marshals and state police are talking to family, friends and associates of the escapees to narrow down where they might be. While it is believed the men may not have left central Florida, there is concern they have gained time in their getaway.
“All of the information that we have at this time indicates that the individuals are here in our local area. We just need to find them at this point,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said in a news conference Friday evening. “We know that they did register at the booking and release center for the Orange County Jail just a few days ago. They showed up and signed documents at that time.”
Demings said officials were using other “covert” tools to track the two men down. But he acknowledged that the situation was “an aberration.”
“This is very frustrating to all of us who work in the system,” he said. “These individuals have murdered individuals in this community, and so we want to bring them back to justice.”
Late Friday night, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office increased the reward for information leading to the capture of Jenkins and Walker to $10,000 each, ABC News’ Orlando affiliate WFTV reported.
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. He shot a 23-year-old man in 1999.
Just three days after their respective releases, both men brazenly went to the corrections department to register as ex-felons, officials said.
“They come to the booking lobby where they are finger printed and a Voluntary Criminal Registrant form is filled out,” a spokeswoman for the corrections department told ABC News in an email.
The sheriff’s deputy in the lobby checks for wants and warrants and if there are none, the form is completed and taken to the sheriff’s office. Officials do not believe there is video from when Jenkins and Walker each registered because that area does not have cameras.
Jenkins’ victim was Roscoe Pugh, whose family was shocked by the news that Jenkins was released.
“It’s very scary,” Pugh’s widow, Crystal Pugh, “If he doesn’t come after my family, it’s possible he will kill someone else.”
Evagelina Kearse said she was fearful that her son’s killer was on the loose.
“Concerned for my safety? Yes I am, because he knows where I live,” she said of Walker. “He wound down the window and emptied a 9 millimeter in my son.”
The judge whose name is on the forged documents is Belvin Perry, Orange County chief judge, who presided over the Casey Anthony case. The judge’s signature was forged in the paperwork calling for reduced sentences for the convicted killers.
Perry told ABC News he believes the killers had help outside the prison.
“They cut and pasted my signature and affixed it to the order,” he said. “They had to have outside help, because in one of those documents, it was actually filed here in the courthouse.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday that authorities are working “very diligently” to apprehend the escapees.
“Every time anything happens in the state, you look back and say, what can we improve?” Scott told WFTV. “But right now we’re going to keep our state safe, we’re going to apprehend those individuals and then we’ll go back and look back at what needs to change to make sure it never happens again.”
Anyone with information on the men is urged to contact the Orange County, Florida Sheriff’s Office.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
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