(ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.) — 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, an 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.
The men were convicted and serving time for separate crimes. Jenkins, 34, was in jail on a 1998 first-degree murder conviction. Charles Walker, also 34, was serving a life sentence for a second-degree murder committed in 1999.
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 WFTV.
Anyone with information on the men is urged to contact the Orange County, Florida Sheriff’s Office.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Tom LoBianco, Deirdre Walsh and Tal Kopan, CNN
Heather Long, CNN