Affidavit says fugitive Curtis Ray Watson strangled, sexually assaulted Tennessee corrections employee

Phillip Jackson

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Affidavits released from the Lauderdale County Clerk's Office detail the allegations against Curtis Ray Watson, a fugitive who escaped the West Tennessee State Penitentiary on Wednesday. 

The affidavits, sworn by agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, are the basis of warrants for first-degree murder, especially aggravated battery, and aggravated sexual battery charges against Watson. 

According to those documents, Watson was considered a trusty – a prisoner who has been given special privileges in return for good behavior.

He was released from the prison about 7 a.m. Wednesday for his daily mowing duties. Through his position at the prison, he had access to equipment, including a tractor and a golf cart, according to an affidavit. 

Curtis Ray Watson escaped the West Tennessee State Penitentiary Wednesday, August 7, and is a person-of-interest in the homicide of a Tennessee Department of Correction employee.

At about 8:30 a.m., correctional officers saw Watson in a golf cart at the home of Debra Johnson, a corrections administrator at the prison. Johnson lived in an on-site residence at the prison facility.

Between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., Watson took a tractor and reflective vest from the prison and drove away from the site, the affidavits said. Officials did not notice he was missing until an hour later, according to the affidavit. 

Johnson's coworkers went to her residence and discovered her body at 11:30 a.m. Johnson was found with a cord wrapped around her neck and ligature marks.  Investigators believe she had been strangled and sexually assaulted, according to the affidavit. 

The tractor Watson was driving was found about two miles away from the prison at 1:30 p.m., where his prison identification was recovered, according to the affidavit.

A second affidavit shows Watson was charged with aggravated burglary and another affidavit shows he was charged with aggravated sexual battery. 

Manhunt underway: 'Extremely dangerous' Tennessee man is person-of-interest in homicide

Where was Curtis Watson last spotted?

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Thursday there have been no confirmed sightings of Watson, despite numerous reports across the state.

TBI Director David Rausch also said Thursday the agency has received over 75 tips placing Watson across Tennessee and in other states. 

"We are following up on every tip we receive. The ones we feel are most credible we are checking them first," Rausch said. 

In a news conference Thursday, Rausch advised people in the region to check their property for things that are out of place, check security and trail cameras and check on their neighbors.

"He could be anywhere," Rausch said.

Officials said Watson worked on the grounds as a farm laborer.

Where could he be going?

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation showed this map of the search area as they held a press conference about Curtis Ray Watson, an inmate who escaped from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary.

TBI showed this map of the search area as they held a press conference about Curtis Ray Watson, an inmate who escaped from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary. Watson is listed by TBI as a person of interest in the homicde of a Tennessee Department of Correction employee on Wednesday. TBI considers him extremely dangerous. Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn.

Watson's sentence was connected to a Henry County conviction from 2013. 

Henry County Sheriff Monte Belew urged the community to be aware of the possibility Watson would return to the area, which is approximately 100 miles northeast of the prison. 

"The suspect does have ties to the community. We are urging our citizens to have a heightened awareness and use caution," Belew said. 

What you need to know

Watson's weight is between 180-200 pounds and he is 5-foot-11.

Authorities have distributed several photos of Watson, and his tattoos, to help the public identify him.

The reward for information leading to his capture and conviction has grown to $52,500.

A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation tweet said that Watson "should be considered extremely dangerous."

TBI asks anyone with information on Watson’s whereabouts should call 911 or 1-800-TBI-FIND.

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This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Tennessee manhunt: Affidavits details charges against Curtis Watson