US & Canada

Florida prison mistakenly releases two murderers

Prison booking photos of Joseph Jenkins (left) and Charles Walker (right)
Image caption Joseph Jenkins (left) and Charles Walker (right) are accused of escaping from a Florida prison using forged paperwork

Authorities in Florida are searching for two convicted murderers freed when their prison received forged paperwork ordering their release.

Joseph Jenkins, and Charles Walker, both 34, were serving life sentences.

Release documents bearing the forged signature of a sitting judge were processed through standard channels this autumn, authorities have said.

Authorities were not notified of the issue until several weeks after the convicts' release.

A manhunt was initiated for the two convicts after authorities learned of the error on Tuesday.

"These two individuals are out. They shouldn't be, and we want to get them back in custody,'' Orange County sheriff's office spokesman Angelo Nieves told reporters.

"This shouldn't have happened, but it did, and our concern is to get these individuals into custody.''

'Followed every protocol'

Jenkins was serving a life sentence for the 1998 shooting death of a father of six when he walked out of prison on 27 September.

Walker was sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 shooting death of a 23-year-old man. He was released on 8 October.

According to media reports, authorities received release orders bearing the forged signature of Orange County Chief Judge Belvin Perry and printed on Ninth Judicial Circuit letterhead.

The fabricated documents were processed by the Orange County clerk's office and sent to the Department of Corrections, which co-ordinated the inmates' release from Franklin prison in Carrabelle.

"Everything came the way it normally comes," Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Misty Cash told local media.

"Our department followed every protocol and did everything we are supposed to do."

Law enforcement officials said they believed at least one of the convicts was still in the area.

Authorities are also reviewing other releases based on modified court orders received from Orange County, to ensure no other inmates had been prematurely freed.