CAPTURED: Escaped inmate wanted for murder now in custody
UPDATE: Curtis Ray Watson is now in custody, the TBI announced Sunday morning
Watson escaped from West Tennessee State Penitentiary and is accused of killing Debra Johnson at her home on prison grounds on Wednesday, Aug. 7, was captured in a soybean field, according to law enforcement officials.
Watson served as a trusty at the Henning, TN, prison while serving a 15-year sentence for an aggravated kidnapping conviction in Henry County in 2013. His sentence was due to expire in 2025.
PREVIOUS STORY: TBI tweeted new video footage of Curtis Ray Watson at a home early this morning.
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PREVIOUS STORY: Officials with Tennessee Department of Corrections confirm a sighting of escaped prisoner Curtis Ray Watson.
In a tweet, TDOC said Watson was spotted in a home surveillance video in Henning, Tennessee, which is in the area where he escaped.
In the tweets, officials said Watson appears to be wearing cameo bib overalls and a hat and carrying a camp backpack.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports reward money for an arrest and conviction has now reached $57,000.
TBI officials said the Tennessee Department of Correction added $4,500 to the previous total.
Arrest warrants have been obtained by the TBI for Watson, who will be charged with first-degree murder, especially aggravated burglary and aggravated sexual battery in connection with the death of Debra Johnson.
Johnson is a Correctional Administrator for the Tennessee Department of Correction and lived at a state-owned house near the West Tennessee State Penitentiary, where Watson was being held.
The TBI issued a Blue Alert for Watson after he was discovered missing during a head count at the prison after Johnson was discovered dead around 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
Prison officials went to Johnson's home to check on her after she missed a scheduled meeting with the warden of the prison.
“I want to extend my condolences to the family of Miss Johnson, who was a victim of this homicide,” TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker said during Wednesday's press conference. “Tonight, the TDOC is working closely with the TBI, the Department of Safety and local law enforcement agencies to search and to find Curtis Ray Watson, who is listed as the person of interest in this homicide.
“Rest assured we will find this offender and bring justice to the family of Debra Johnson.”
After finding Johnson dead inside her home from foul play, the prison was placed on lockdown and an official inmate count was conducted. Watson was found missing from a work detail.
Watson has also been added to the TBI’s Most Wanted list.
TBI Most Wanted - Curtis Ray Watson - Added Aug. 7, 2019
Prison escapee Curtis Ray Watson is a person of interest after a Tennessee Department of Correction was murdered on Wednesday. (Photo: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation)
The TBI, at the request of District Attorney General Mark Davidson, is investigating Johnson’s death.
Johnson, 64, is a 38-year veteran of the Department of Correction. She was the Correctional Administrator for West Tennessee, overseeing the Mark Luttrell Transition Center in Memphis, the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, and the West Tennessee State Penitentiary and Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center, both located in Henning.
She began her career as a correctional officer in January 1981. During her career she also served as correctional sergeant, deputy warden, warden and her current position as Correctional Administrator.
The Department of Correction owns 8-12 homes on the prison property for administrators to reside.
Watson was a minimum custody offender assigned to a job of farm laborer at the prison. He was serving a 15-year sentence on an especially aggravated kidnapping conviction in Henry County in 2013. His sentence was due to expire in 2025.
He had previously been convicted of aggravated child abuse out of Carroll County. That sentence expired in 2011.
Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker said in a press conference in Nashville that Watson had had no disciplinary action against him since 2007. Prior to 2007, he was disciplined for not reporting to his assigned duties and classes.