Seven months before a pair of murders escaped from the Franklin Correctional Institution in Florida's Panhandle, a Brevard County sheriff's investigator uncovered evidence of forged court records being made inside the prison's walls.
In January, an observant employee of the Brevard County Clerk of Courts office intercepted two fraudulent court papers that would have set Gerald Joe free from prison. Joe, 33, was serving a 30 year sentence for murdering a Brevard County man during a drug deal in 1999.
On February 11, Brevard County Sheriff's Agent Jacqueline Hearon executed a search warrant at the Franklin Correctional Institution and collected evidence from Joe's cell.
According to the case report, "Mr. Joe stated he did draft both motions and gave his draft to the legal department of Franklin C.I. who in turn typed it up and returned it to him." Most Florida prisoners have access to a law library staffed by fellow inmates, according to the Department of Corrections website.
Joe denied forging the signature of Brevard County Circuit Court Judge John Griesbaum, which appeared on a phony court order reducing Joe's prison sentence to 15 years.
However, while searching Joe's cell, Agent Hearon said she found an authentic court record that had been sent to Joe's cellmate, Earles McCloud, which contained Judge Griesbaum's real signature. That signature "is identical to the signature on the fraudulent motion," according to the case report. Agent Hearon noted that Joe had access to a copy machine in the prison.
Despite the evidence collected by Hearon, the Brevard-Seminole State Attorney's Office decided not to file criminal charges against Joe for attempting to escape. After consulting with Judge Griesbaum, Intake Division Chief Michael Hunt wrote, "the available evidence is insufficient to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, even though the defendant would have been the beneficiary of the fraudulent order."
Nine days after the search warrant was executed at the prison, investigators in Orange County learned another Franklin C.I. inmate, Jeffrey Forbes, had also allegedly tried to escape using forged court records. By April 1, Orange County authorities were in communication with Department of Corrections Senior Inspector Conan Davidson about the Forbes incident, according to an investigative timeline released by Orange-Osceola State Attorney Jeff Ashton.
Although authorities from both Brevard and Orange counties were looking into attempted escapes from Franklin C.I. in early 2013, convicted murderer Joseph Jenkins was released from prison on September 27 after fraudulent documents were filed with the Orange County Clerk of Court. Eleven days later, Charles Walker also walked out of the same prison based on a phony court order. Both inmates were supposed to be serving life sentences.
Agents captured Jenkins and Walker at a Panama City motel Saturday.
A Department of Corrections spokeswoman has not responded to Local 6's questions about how the two inmates could escape from Franklin C.I. months after the Joe and Forbes investigations were launched by outside agencies. She pointed out that the entire matter is under investigation by the Florida Department of law Enforcement.