UPDATE: The reward for the capture and conviction of Curtis Watson now stands at $57,000.  

@TNTDOC1  has added $4,500 to the total.

Debra Johnson's distinguished career with TDOC spanned 38 years of service to the people of Tennessee. Her body was escorted to Nashville on Friday. 


PREVIOUS UPDATE: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation held a Friday afternoon update on their search for escaped inmate Curtis Ray Watson, the primary suspect in the death of Tennessee Department of corrections administrator Debra Johnson.

Arrest warrants have been obtained by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for Curtis Ray Watson, who escaped from a West Tennessee prison on Wednesday and killed a prison administrator.

The TBI said Watson will be charged with first-degree murder, especially aggravated burglary and aggravated sexual battery in connection with the death of Debra Johnson.

Thursday, TBI Director David Rausch told the media the Watson 'could be anywhere' give the location of the West Tennessee State Penitentiary, which is close to the state border with Arkansas.

The TBI secured warrants for Watson for three charges:

  • First Degree Murder
  • Especially Aggravated Burglary
  • Aggravated Sexual Battery

ORGINAL STORY : Tennessee Governor Bill Lee authorized a $25,000 reward for information leading to the capture of escaped prisoner Curtis Ray Watson, the suspect in the death of Tennessee Department of corrections administrator Debra Johnson.

There have been no credible sightings, according to TBI Director David Rausch at the Thursday news conference. He asked people in the area to be diligent in checking on their property and neighbors, as well as trail and surveillance cameras. He urged that if Watson was spotted to not approach him, since he is considered to be dangerous, and to call 911 immediately.

Rausch asked those who live in the area of the prison to look for things that are "out of place," such as missing food, weapons or vehicles. The TBI chief said Watson could be outside of Tennessee.

The combined reward for information leading to the capture of Watson now stands at $52,500; the $25,000 authorized by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, $5,000 from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, $2,500 from the TBI, $10,000 from the FBI and $10,000 from U.S. Marshals.

Watson was placed on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's Most Wanted List Wednesday evening after he morning escape from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, TN, about 45 miles northeast of Memphis.

Johnson's body was found insider her home on the grounds. She was a 38-year veteran of TDOC and was 64 years old.

TDOC Commissioner David Parker said Watson is serving a 15-year sentence for a conviction of especially aggravated kidnapping in Henry County. His sentence began in 2013 and was set to expire in 2025. This is Watson's second prison stint. He previously was in prison for aggravated child abuse and was released in 2011. He returned to prison in 2013.

Watson is described as 5’11” tall and weighs 140 pounds. He has brown eyes and a long gray beard. The TBI released additional photos showing the detailed tattoos on Watson's arms.

This is a serious situation and we ask the public to stay vigilant, to stay aware," TBI Director David Rausch said. "We need to get this dangerous individual into custody."

According to the DOC, Watson was assigned to farm duty at the prison. A spokesperson for the department says Watson escaped on a tractor, which was found about an hour after they launched their search.

A state-wide 'Blue Alert' was issued Wednesday afternoon. A Blue Alert uses the state's AMBER Alert infrastructure and is used to warn the public when a violent criminal has killed or seriously injured a law enforcement officer.

"Today we lost a very beloved and respected member of our TDOC family," the Tennessee Department of Corrections said in a statement Wednesday. "We are extremely saddened by this tragic loss and committed to working with our law enforcement in bringing the person responsible to justice."

Anyone with information is urged to call 911 or 1-800-TBI-FIND.

The TBI is posting information about Watson and updates on the search in an online blog.

Anyone with information is urged to call 911 or 1-800-TBI-FIND.

This is the third time a Blue Alert has been issued in the history of the program, which dates back to 2011. The program uses the statewide infrastructure of the existing AMBER Alert system to push out critical information to the public to assist in apprehending violent criminals who kill or seriously injure law enforcement officers in the line of duty or to aid in locating a missing officer where foul play is involved.

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