Man escaped Tennessee prison after prison employee murdered, considered armed and unsafe

Clay Curtis
August 12, 2019

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has said he's a suspect in the death of Johnson, a longtime corrections official who was found dead in her home on the prison grounds.

A resident alerted authorities after capturing pictures of Watson. They said Curtis was relieved after being arrested, telling police he knew we wouldn't be able to escape given the number of law enforcement in the area, which is estimated to have been 300-400 during the search.

Authorities said Watson surrendered "immediately" with his hands up.

Watson was finally back in police custody by noon on Sunday. Johnson hadn't reported for work that morning, and when officials went to check on her, they found that the 64-year-old had been strangled with a cord and sexually assaulted.

"He could be anywhere", TBI Director David Rausch said.

This is Watson's second prison stint.

A reward of $52,000 had been offered for information leading to Watson's capture.

Watson was apprehended at 11 a.m.in Henning, where the West Tennessee State Penitentiary he escaped from on Wednesday is located, the department said in a statement.

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Watson, who was serving a 15-year sentence for especially aggravated kidnapping, was discovered missing when officials put the facility on lockdown and conducted a check of inmates.

The inmate, described as extremely risky, is accused of strangling TDOC administrator Debra Johnson on the morning of his escape.

A resident of Hennings, about 10 miles from the prison, had spotted Curtis Watson, 44, on his property in home surveillance video Sunday morning.

A warrant was issued charging him with first-degree murder, especially aggravated burglary and aggravated sexual battery. Davidson said the death penalty will be under consideration.

TBI says Watson escaped prison grounds, and the tractor was found nearby.

'Tremendous news that this fugitive is back in custody, ' Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said on Twitter.

Watson had previously been convicted of aggravated child abuse in Carroll County.

Then half an hour later, co-workers were concerned that Johnson had not shown up for work, and sent authorities to her home. His sentence in that case expired in 2011, officials said.

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