DA: Prosecution is looking at the possibility of seeking the death penalty for Watson


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The prosecution is now looking at the possibility of seeking the death penalty for an escaped inmate who is accused of killing a Tennessee Department of Corrections employee, according to Lauderdale District Attorney Mark Davidson.

Curtis Ray Watson, 44, has been charged with first-degree murder, aggravated sexual battery, especially aggravated burglary and escape.

The TBI said Watson was spotted by law enforcement around 10:55 A.M. and surrendered at that time.

Watson was apprehended in Henning, Tenn.

He is now in custody at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.

(Courtesy: TBI)

Watson was apprehended following a tip from Harvey and Ann Taylor, who caught Watson on their ring doorbell camera.

“We were awaken around 3:30 a.m. by the alarm on my ring doorbell saying that someone was in my backyard. We pulled it up on our screens so that we could see it in the house and we looked out and there was this guy looking in our refrigerator,” said Harvey.

At first they couldn’t see Watson’s face.

“We could see the camoflauge clothing he had on but we couldn’t see his face at first. And once he closed the left side of the refrigerator my wife saw his face and recognized his beard because it’s similar to mine. She (Ann) said ‘that’s him, that’s him.’ So, I prepared for if he tried to come inside and then we called 911.” said Harvey.

A reporter then asked Harvey what was going through his mind at this moment.

“We were frightened at first and when we realized it was him it heightened that fright,” Harvey said.

The TDOC’s Office of Investigation and Compliance saying they will continue to work with other agencies to investigate this incident and bring additional charges where appropriate.


The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has issued a statewide “Blue Alert” for an escaped prison inmate and suspect in the death of a corrections employee. They have also secured warrants for three charges related to his escape.

TBI is now on day four in the search for Curtis Ray Watson. They say there have been 369 tips but still no credible sightings of Watson. They have also said that Watson has a circular tattoo on the left side of his neck.

Watson is believed to still be in the surrounding area.

Watson has been charged with the following:

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

The Tennessee Dept. of Correction posted information on the slain correction employee Thursday evening, as well as her photo:

Debra Johnson. (Photo: TDOC)

TDOC has announced funeral arrangements for Johnson. Visitation will be held two separate days. Visitation will be held Thursday, August 15th from 3 until 7 p.m. at 15th Avenue Baptist Church, located at 1203 9th Avenue North in Nashville. The 2nd visitation will be held Friday at The Temple Church, located at 3810 Kings Lane in Nashville from 10 – noon. The funeral will begin after visitation at noon.

Gov Bill Lee said at a press conference Thursday the state will offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Curtis Watson, 44, escaped the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning. The FBI and U.S. Marshals have contributed $10,000 each; plus $2,500 reward from the TBI, a $5,000 contribution from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and TDOC added $4,500 which brings the total reward to $57,000.

Thursday afternoon, the TBI released new images of Watson from surveillance video taken prior to his escape:

(Photos via TBI)

He has been added to TBI’s Most Wanted list.

Watson is a person-of-interest in the slaying of a Tennessee Dept. of Correction (TDOC) employee on Wednesday.

The TDOC employee was Debra Johnson, 64, West Tennessee Correctional Administrator and a 38-year veteran employee of the state of Tennessee.

According to TDOC Commissioner Parker, Johnson’s body was found in her residence on the premises of the penitentiary Wednesday morning.

“There was indication in her residence that foul play was involved,” Parker said.

The facility was then locked down and an official count was conducted, Parker said, after which they discovered that Watson was missing from his work detail of farm labor at the facility.

“Appropriate protocol was initiated, the TBI was contacted along with local law enforcement and a manhunt was initiated immediately,” Parker said.

Investigators found the tractor about a mile away from the penitentiary. They deduced Watson had escaped using that equipment while on his work detail.

Watson was serving a 15-year sentence for especially aggravated kidnapping. He had previously been convicted of aggravated child abuse.

He had had no disciplinary actions since 2007, Parker said.

He is described as white male, weighs between 180-200 pounds, is 5’11” and has brown eyes.

When asked questions regarding the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death in her on-site residence at the prison, TDOC and TBI said it was too early in the investigation to share.

Watson should be considered extremely dangerous, TBI says.

If you see him or know of his whereabouts, officials say do not approach him and to call 911 or 1-855-ALERT-TBI.

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