Manhunt over: Escaped Tennessee inmate Curtis Ray Watson captured, death penalty possible

Cassandra Stephenson

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Authorities are considering seeking the death penalty in the case of Curtis Ray Watson, an escaped convict captured by law enforcement Sunday after five days on the run.

"Today Curtis Ray Watson went from being an escaped convict to being a criminal defendant," District Attorney General Mark Davidson said at a press conference in Ripley Sunday. "

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Watson was captured around 11 a.m. Sunday in the 600 block of Caroline Street, said David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. He surrendered without incident after exiting a soybean field about 10 miles from West Tennessee State Penitentiary.

The escaped inmate was charged with the homicide of Correctional Administrator Debra Johnson, the Tennessee Department of Correction said in a press release.

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Authorities converged on the area surrounding Caroline Street and Highway 87 after receiving a tip from Henning residents Harvey and Ann Tayloraround 3:30 a.m. The Taylors spotted Watson on their home surveillance system taking drinks out of their outdoor refrigerator. When the intruder closed the refrigerator door, Ann Taylor immediately recognized his face.

"I was frightened at first," Harvey Taylor said. "When we recognized who it was, it heightened that [fear]."

Harvey Taylor said he retrieved his weapon in case Watson tried to enter the home and the couple called 911. Within 30 minutes, hundreds of law enforcement officers swarmed the area and began a ground and air search, according to Rausch.

Watson was captured just 750 feet from the Taylors' home. When asked if he expects to receive the $57,000 reward for Watson's capture, Harvey Taylor said, "I would think so."

"I'm just relieved that it went the way it did," Harvey Taylor said.

As law enforcement vehicles left the scene, a TDOC employee excitedly waved them on, waving her hands in celebration.

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Numerous civilian cars honked while driving through the area.

"The vigilant efforts of search teams from the Tennessee Department of Correction, THP, FBI, US Marshal's, local law enforcement, TBI, ATF and with helpful tips from the citizens of Lauderdale County led to Watson's capture at approximately 11 a.m. on Sunday, August 11," the TDOC press release stated.

During a press conference Sunday afternoon, Rausch also praised the community for its diligence and support.

He said around 3:30 a.m. Sunday officials received a tip from a Henning family that Watson had been spotted on their video doorbell. He said within 30 minutes hundreds of law enforcement officers were on the scene and in the area. A ground and air search were started.

Rausch said law enforcement spotted Watson at 10:55 a.m. coming out of a soybean field, about 750 feet from the home where he had been captured on video. Watson surrendered without incident and was taken into custody.

Henning is about 60 miles north of Memphis.

Johnson, a corrections administrator at the prison, was found dead in her residence 30 minutes after prison officials discovered Watson was missing.

Watson, 44, was serving a 15-year sentence for an especially aggravated kidnapping charge. The Tennessee Department of Correction's Office of Investigation and Compliance are continuing to work with other agencies to investigate the incident and bring additional charges if appropriate, the TDOC said.

This story is still developing and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Follow Cassandra Stephenson on Twitter: @CStephenson731

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Curtis Watson could face death penalty after capture in Henning, TN