Escaped Inmate Faces Charges Of Murder, Burglary And Sexual Assault | Nashville Public Radio

Escaped Inmate Faces Charges Of Murder, Burglary And Sexual Assault

Aug 8, 2019

Updated at 6:24 p.m.

An inmate who escaped from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary is facing charges of first-degree murder, especially aggrevated burglary and aggravated sexual assault.

Curtis Watson is believed to have killed Debra Johnson, a top Tennessee prisons official, before fleeing Wednesday morning.

Authorities are offering over $50,000 in reward for tips that could lead to the capture and conviction of Watson. In a press conference in Nashville Thursday with Gov. Bill Lee, TBI Director David Rausch said the state has now expanded the manhunt.

"He could be anywhere," Rausch said. "We need Tennesseans, as well as our partners throughout the bordering states to be vigilant on this. He could be outside of Tennessee."

In the first 24 hours after Curtis Watson’s escape, investigators received 75 tips about potential sightings across Tennessee and in other states. TBI is following up on the most credible ones.

According to TBI, Watson is serving a 15-year sentence on a conviction of especially aggravated kidnapping. His sentence was set to expire in 2025.

Watson escaped the facility on a tractor that he had access to as part of his farm duties. The tractor was found about two miles away from the crime scene. It’s unclear if Watson is armed. 

The incident set off what’s only the third Blue Alert in the history of the program. That’s a statewide warning that is issued when a violent criminal kills or seriously injures law enforcement officers.

Johnson, 64, worked for the Tennessee Department of Correction for 38 years. Most recently, Johnson worked at the correctional administrator for West Tennessee, giving her oversight of four prisons.

State officials say her body was found inside her house at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday. A check was performed after she missed a meeting with the warden scheduled for earlier that morning.