Inmate who escaped from Tennessee prison back in custody

Erika Holt
August 12, 2019

The Tennessee Department of Corrections identified the inmate as Curtis Ray Watson, who turned 44 Wednesday.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released two of Watson's previous mug shots, in case he altered his facial hair, as well as images of Watson's tattoos, in hopes someone will be able to identify him.

Investigators say shortly before the escape, Curtis sexually assaulted and strangled 64-year-old prison administrator Debra Johnson.

As officials investigated, they found that convicted kidnapper Curtis Ray Watson, 44, was missing from his prison work assignment as a farm laborer.

Watson was seen dressed in camouflage bib overalls and a hat carrying a camp backpack.

They offered a reward of $52,500 for information leading to his capture, and hundreds of tips poured in.

The TBI said it had received 369 tips but zero credible sightings of him by late Saturday, and was offering a reward of $57,000.

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Department of Corrections administrator Debra Johnson, 64, was found dead around 11:20 a.m. Wednesday in her home across from the West Tennessee State Prison in Henning, authorities said.

Johnson had been employed by the state for 38 years and "was very well regarded with staff and inmate population", Tony Parker, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Corrections, said at the press conference Thursday. Authorities have scoured the "acres and acres of farm fields and woods surrounding the prison" looking for the inmate, WMC reports, but torrential rain made it hard.

Johnson's co-workers discovered her body about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday after she didn't report to work. Official inmate count was conducted. The facility is about 60 miles (97 kilometres) from Memphis. She oversaw wardens at several area prisons, corrections officials said.

The incident set off what's only the third Blue Alert in the history of the program. The TBI chief said Watson could be outside of Tennessee.

Residents are asked to check trail cameras and other video surveillance cameras in the area for any sign of Watson, and to talk to their neighbors.

Watson had been serving a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty to especially aggravated kidnapping in Henry County. He previously was in prison for aggravated child abuse and was released in 2011. That sentence expired in 2011.

"Watson should be considered extremely risky", according to a news release from TBI.

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