Tennessee convict set to face judge after escape, capture

Associated Press • Aug 14, 2019 at 1:48 PM

RIPLEY — A Tennessee convict accused of killing a corrections administrator and driving away from prison on a tractor is going back before a judge Wednesday.

Curtis Ray Watson is scheduled to appear in a Tennessee court for arraignment on charges including murder and aggravated sexual battery in the killing of 64-year-old Debra Johnson.

Authorities say the 44-year-old Watson was on lawn mowing duty at West Tennessee State Penitentiary on Aug. 7 when he went to Johnson’s home on the prison grounds and killed her. Authorities say Watson then escaped on a tractor, which was later found near the prison.

Phone records show Johnson was talking on the phone at 8:10 a.m., just 20 minutes before corrections workers saw Watson in a golf cart at her house, according to an affidavit. He drove away from the prison sometime between 9 and 10 a.m. on a tractor, the affidavit says. He was discovered missing at 11 a.m.

Authorities arrested him four days later after he was recorded on surveillance cameras outside a home in Henning, 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the prison.

Watson has been serving a 15-year sentence for especially aggravated kidnapping. He also had been previously convicted of aggravated child abuse. Watson had access to a tractor and a golf cart as a “trusty” — an inmate granted special privileges as a trustworthy person, authorities said.

Court documents released Wednesday before the arraignment said a public a defender is being appointed to represent Watson. The attorney was not named in the documents. Lauderdale County District Attorney Mark Davidson has said the death penalty may be imposed.

Corrections officials said Johnson had been a state employee for 38 years, and oversaw wardens at several area prisons.

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