Investigators are building a case against people they suspect of helping two Orlando-area killers forge documents that released them from a Panhandle prison where they were serving life terms, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said late Monday.
FDLE agents have identified five similar cases, including one in which an inmate was erroneously released but recaptured a day later, the agency also revealed.
Investigators hope DNA and fingerprints will help them determine who prepared the forged documents.
"We have pinpointed suspects," FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said.
Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, both 34, were arrested Saturday at a Panama City motel where they were awaiting a ride from Atlanta that would have taken them away from Florida, the FDLE said.
They are not cooperating with investigators, but their families are, Plessinger said.
On Sunday, FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey said the phony documents may have been bought for $8,000 each. The information came from an informant and hasn't been substantiated, Plessinger said.
"We know that people helped them on the outside and harbored them and assisted them with money," Plessinger said.
Of the seven forgery cases, five — including Walker and Jenkins — involved inmates at Franklin Correctional Institution in Carrabelle, she said. The documents were filed by mailing them to the appropriate clerk of courts.
Investigators are looking into whether the cases are related.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, issued a statement promising a "comprehensive hearing" to determine what led to the prisoners' release.
"There is no reasonable excuse for the erroneous release of two murderers serving life sentences," Bradley wrote.
Bradley said the hearing would be held at the next meeting of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.
"Every Floridian, and certainly every victim of crime, deserves to have complete and total confidence that this situation will never happen again," Bradley said.
Local news outlets reported Monday that a drop box used to submit documents to the Orange County Clerk of Courts had been removed after the mistaken releases came to light, but spokeswoman Leesa Bainbridge said drop boxes are still in place but trays at the counters where people previously could drop off paperwork were removed.
Bainbridge confirmed that the agency has altered some protocols in the wake of the escapes but declined to elaborate, citing security concerns.
In a failed May 2011 attempt to gain Jenkins' release, a fake motion to reduce his sentence appeared in his court file and was stamped by a clerk's office employee. The only way to have a document stamped is for the deliverer to request a receipt in person. For unknown reasons, Jenkins was not released that time.
The forged documents that granted Walker's freedom on Oct. 9 and Jenkins' on Sept. 27 were not stamped.
Walker was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1999 shooting of 23-year-old Cedric Slater. Jenkins was imprisoned for the 1998 first-degree murder of Roscoe Pugh, a 28-year-old father of six, during a home-invasion robbery.
During their brief freedom, both men registered as felons at the Orange County Jail as required of newly released inmates. Walker attended church and was received by a congregation whose leaders said they had no idea his release was illegal.
The scheme used in the prison break has prompted policy changes at the Florida Department of Corrections.
From now on, any documents that reduce an inmate's sentence will be verified by the judge who signed the order, department Secretary Michael Crews wrote last week in a letter to the state's chief judges.