WANTED: $52,500 reward offered for escaped inmate, suspected of killing a West TN Correctional Administrator


HENNING, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – A $52,500 reward is now being offered for the apprehension and conviction of escaped West Tennessee inmate Curtis Ray Watson. Watson is now considered a suspect in the death of 64-year-old Debra Johnson, a West Tennessee Correctional Administrator.

In a news conference Thursday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced a reward of $25,000. The TBI added $2,500, and the ATF another $5,000. Following the news conference, the TBI said the FBI and U.S. Marshals kicked in $10,000 each.

The TBI says Watson is 5’11” tall, and though his weight was 140 pounds at intake in 2012, they believe he now weighs 180-200 pounds.

Thursday, The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released new photos of Watson from when he was first incarcerated, in case he has changed his appearance with his facial hair.

Watson used a tractor to escape from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning Wednesday. The tractor was found about two miles away from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary Wednesday, in a residential area, about 60 miles from Memphis. Investigators are asking people in the area to check their properties for signs of anything unusual, and to check surveillance cameras.

The Associated Press reports Watson was serving a 15-year sentence on an especially aggravated kidnapping conviction and worked at the prison as a farm laborer.

Debra Johnson (Courtesy WKRN)

Debra Johnson was found dead was found dead in her home Wednesday. She lived in a property on site. The crime scene was cleared Thursday morning, and all evidence was taken to TBI headquarters.

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

Authorities have been conducting a massive manhunt for Watson including roadblocks where they are searching vehicles for the escapee. Agents have also searched farms, fields, rivers, and woods in the area.

TBI tweeted Thursday morning there have been reports of sightings across the state, but none of those reports have been confirmed.

The TBI says Watson should be considered extremely dangerous. If you see Curtis Ray Watson, do not approach, and call 911 or 1-800-TBI-FIND.

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