West Tennessee prison escapee and accused killer Curtis Watson could face death penalty


LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – Wednesday afternoon, the man who escaped a West Tennessee prison and is accused of killing his prison administrator made his first court appearance on new charges.

Curtis Watson escaped the West Tennessee State Penitentiary for five days before being caught late Sunday morning. Authorities said Watson strangled and sexually assaulted Debra Johnson, a 64-year-old mother and grandmother with 38 years of experience.

Lauderdale County prosecutors reiterated to Local 24 News Wednesday the death penalty could be on the table as the case moves forward.

Watson began his day in the Tipton County jail, but he’s now at Riverbend Max Security Institution, a maximum security TDOC prison, after appearing by video in Lauderdale County court. This, after he escaped from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary one week ago, leading authorities on a five-day search before they caught Watson Sunday morning 10 miles or so from the prison.

“As of today, he is returning to TDOC custody,” Lauderdale County District Attorney Mark Davidson said.

In the brief arraignment, Judge Janice Craig read Watson his four new charges, including first degree murder.

While Watson wasn’t seen or heard inside the courtroom, an amended affidavit offered new details of what authorities said happened before the 44-year-old took off from that Henning, Tennessee, prison.

In the modified affidavit, authorities said Watson sexually assaulted prison administrator Debra Johnson and strangled her with a cord in the bedroom of her home on prison grounds.

“We have been in touch with the family. We will continue to be in touch with them and after during this process,” Davidson said.

The Lauderdale County district attorney expects Watson to be formally indicted by a grand jury in October. He’s scheduled to appear in court again next month.

“He will be evaluated by a mental health professional within TDOC prior to the preliminary hearing (on September 25th),” Lauderdale County Assistant District Attorney Julie Pillow said.

Watson wasn’t eligible for bond since he was already serving a prison sentence from a 2013 especially aggravated kidnapping conviction.

One of the public defenders representing Watson declined comment to Local 24 News.

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