Curtis Watson sentenced in 2019 murder, rape of Tennessee prison official during escape


Curtis Watson

LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. — The man accused of escaping from prison and killing an administrator in 2019 was sentenced to life without parole on a first-degree murder charge in court Monday.

Curtis Watson entered a plea of nolo contendre, or no contest, which has the same effect as a guilty plea, on the murder charge. He was also sentenced to 25 years on a charge of aggravated rape, and several more years on various other charges.

Watson apologized to the victim’s family and prison workers after the sentencing.

“My apologies. Please forgive me for everything I’ve ever done,” he said.

Johnson’s daughter said she was pleased with outcome and the family hoped to move on and heal.

Watson was already in prison serving 15 years for especially aggravated kidnapping when he was accused of breaking out of jail and escaping on a tractor before raping and killing Debra Johnson in 2019.

He was captured near the West Tennessee State Penitentiary ofter a five-day manhunt in August, 2019.

Watson appeared in front of Judge Joe Walker at Monday afternoon in Lauderdale County. Prosecutors said he may plead guilty to all charges.

Johnson worked for the state for 38 years and was in charge of overseeing wardens at several prisons. Many remember her positive influence, and touching the lives of prisoners.

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