(PANAMA CITY, Fla.) — Two convicted murderers who escaped from a Florida prison may have paid someone thousands of dollars to create the forged release papers they used to fool officials, a law enforcement official said.
Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker were apprehended without incident at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City at approximately 5:40 p.m. Saturday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said.
“They came out with their hands up in the air,” U.S. Marshals Service Chief Inspector Frank Chiumento told ABC News. “They knew when they saw it on the news, their scheme was uncovered.”
Shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday, about 20 members of the task force surrounded the hotel and told Jenkins and Walker to come out. About a minute later, both men came out with their hands in the air and were taken into custody without incident.
When the two convicted killers emerged from room 227, where they had been holed up, they told officials “they were relieved that it was over,” Chiumento said.
While it is unclear how the two men managed pay for their Panama City hotel room, FLDE Commissioner Gerald Bailey said that there is speculation that Jenkins and Walker paid a source to commit the forgery leading to their escape.
“There is speculation, an underlying speculation that there was a source where, for a certain sum of money, that these documents could be constructed for $8,000,” he said today at a news conference in Tallahassee, Fla. “Whether that is true or not will be determined.”
Bailey said Jenkins and Walker had been in Bay County, Fla., for approximately two days when they were found at the hotel. He didn’t know where the two convicts had hunkered down previously, but noted that they didn’t have many possessions with them when they were booked into Bay County Jail Saturday night.
At their first court appearance Sunday afternoon, the judge ordered the convicts back to the custody of the state.
It is unclear whether they’ll be transported back to Franklin County or Orange County, but Florida Department of Corrections secretary Michael Cruz told ABC News they will not be returning to Franklin Correctional Institution, from which they made their escape.
While the manhunt for the escapees was on a national scale, law enforcement officials said they had information that led them to believe the men were hiding out in central Florida.
An interview with an associate, who was not in jail, helped pinpoint Jenkins’ and Walker’s whereabouts, Bailey said.
The men “were awaiting transportation from Atlanta to be transported to another state” when they were captured, he said.
Bailey indicated that more arrests would be made in connection with the jailbreak.
As far as how the men were able to evade the prison, he said “it was a system mistake,” mentioning two other cases in which forging signatures to attempt a false release had been tried, but had no success.
Still, Florida Department of Corrections officials said they are assessing policies to ensure a situation like this doesn’t happen in the future.
“I don’t mind to tell you I did a lot of praying for the last five to six days and to say we’re thankful, that’s an understatement,” Florida Department of Corrections secretary Michael Cruz said. “These are two hardened, convicted felons and the thought of them being out there in our state caused me great concern.”
Jenkins was released on Sept. 27 from the Franklin Correctional Institution. On Oct. 8, Walker was released from the same facility, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Both releases came as a result of forged documents ordering reduced sentences for the two.
It was not known whether the men — who were serving time for separate crimes — worked together to escape the prison.
The recapture of the two men came just hours after family members of the two held a news conference to plead with them to surrender. Both Jenkins’ and Walker’s family members said they received legitimate phone calls from the jail notifying them of their releases.
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.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Ashley Fantz, Faith Karimi and Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
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