State law enforcement officials announced Tuesday they have identified a handful of suspects who might have played a part in the release of two convicted Orlando-area murderers within the last month.
But only one was publicly named — a Pinellas County man who was mistakenly freed after a document with a forged Pinellas circuit judge’s signature turned up in his file in 2009.
“We have today uncovered key facts and we have now targeted several suspects,” Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said at a press conference. He noted, though, that investigators still are in the early stages and much is still unknown on how the two prisoners escaped.
Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for FDLE, confirmed that after the press conference that agents are investigating whether Nydeed Nashaddai, 48, who formerly lived in Pinellas Park, was involved.
Nashaddai was jailed in Pinellas in 2009 on charges he stole and cashed someone else’s checks. He was released when a document showed up in his file, with the forged signature of Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Thomas McGrady, that said all charges were dismissed.
Nashaddai was free for about 16 hours before he was apprehended. He was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison for escape, and ended up in Franklin Correctional Institution in the Panhandle, where the two convicted murderers, Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, were also housed.
“I said to myself, ‘Oh, no, not again,’” McGrady said at a hastily arranged press conference Tuesday. “One of my first thoughts was ... ‘I wonder if Nydeed Nashaddai is in the same facility.’”
Jenkins and Walker, who were arrested over the weekend at the Coconut Grove Motor Inn in Panama City, are not cooperating in the investigation, Bailey said. Printers and computers used by inmates in the Franklin library have been seized.
In Nashaddai’s case, the document with McGrady’s forged signature was dropped off at a courthouse in St. Petersburg that typically handles probate and civil matters before it was shipped to the criminal justice complex in Clearwater, McGrady told reporters.
In the case of Walker and Jenkins, forged documents ordering their release were mailed to the Orange County Clerk’s office, Bailey said.
Since 2009, there have been seven instances where inmates escaped or tried to escape from Florida jails or prisons using forged documents, Bailey said. All but Nashaddai’s escape from the Pinellas Jail have been at Franklin.
McGrady said he has received a letter from Michael Crews, the Florida Department of Corrections secretary, saying the agency now will verify the order every time it receives a document indicating a judge has ordered a convict’s early release.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Pam Bondi, working with Big Bend Crime Stoppers, and FDLE are each offering a $10,000 reward leading to the arrest and conviction of those who aided in the escape.
“To do this from in custody takes some help from the outside,” McGrady said.
McGrady said a judge would sign a document ordering an inmate’s early release only after a successful appeal or motion, a relatively rare occurence.
After Nashaddai’s premature release, McGrady had to testify at his escape trial. While he marveled at the forged signature, he also knew he had not ordered the charges be dropped.
“It looked my signature, but I know I didn’t sign it,” he said.
The Sixth Judicial Circuit, which covers Pasco and Pinellas counties, already had been working on putting records on a paperless system in which a judge’s signature will be encrypted and theoretically inaccessible to forgers and hackers alike.