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ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Two convicted murderers who used forged court documents to escape from a Florida prison turned up at a jail soon afterwards to be fingerprinted and registered as ex-convicts, authorities said on Friday.
Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, both serving life sentences, were mistakenly freed from the Franklin Correctional Institution in the Florida Panhandle on September 27 and October 8, respectively.
Their get-out-of-jail-free card came in the form of falsified court orders that reduced their prison terms, apparently filed on their behalf by an unknown accomplice, prison officials said.
Jenkins and Walker turned up separately at an Orlando-area jail, within 48 hours of their release, to be checked for outstanding arrest warrants and be photographed and fingerprinted for a registry of released felons, according to Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jeff Williamson.
Such registration is required under Florida law, but by going through the process the men appeared to show a high degree of confidence that they weren't about to be put back behind bars.
The one-page registrations later were filed away with no red flags raised at the sheriff's department, Williamson said.
As the manhunt intensified on Friday, both men remained on the loose and the Florida Department of Corrections announced an immediate change in procedure to require prisons to verify with sentencing judges any orders that call for an inmate's early release.
Red-faced state prison officials have not yet clarified the origin of the fabricated court orders that resulted in the two men walking free.
But State Attorney Jeff Ashton in Orlando revealed late Thursday that a third inmate, Jeffrey Forbes, serving a life sentence for attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, attempted a similar scheme last spring. Forbes is now being prosecuted for forgery and attempted escape.
Editing by Tom Brown and Gunna Dickson