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Escaped Tennessee inmate captured after 5-day manhunt

A Tennessee convict suspected of killing a corrections administrator before escaping prison on a tractor was captured Sunday seven hours after homeowners recognized him on their outdoor surveillance camera, authorities said.

Posted: Aug 11, 2019 9:40 PM

LAUDERDALE, Tenn. (AP) -- A Tennessee convict suspected of killing a corrections administrator before escaping prison on a tractor was captured Sunday seven hours after homeowners recognized him on their outdoor surveillance camera, authorities said.

Curtis Ray Watson put his hands up and was arrested as he came out of a soybean field Sunday in the west Tennessee community of Henning, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch said at a news conference. The capture ended a five-day manhunt.

The field is 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the prison Watson escaped from Wednesday and near a home where he was seen on a surveillance camera earlier Sunday, Rausch said. The homeowners called police after one of them recognized Watson from police-issued photos.

Photos provided by the residents' camera show Watson, 41, dressed in camouflage bib overalls and a hat and carrying a camp backpack. Dozens of officers mobilized in the area after the sighting.

"He had made the comment that he knew he wasn't getting away because of the number of law enforcement," Rausch said.

Lauderdale County District Attorney Mark Davidson said Watson will be arraigned this week on charges of first-degree murder, especially aggravated burglary, aggravated sexual battery and escape. Davidson said the death penalty will be under consideration.

"I can assure you that our office will be resolved to see that he is put back where he can never escape again and harm anybody in our communities," Davidson said.

Watson was on lawn mowing duty when the TBI says he sexually assaulted and strangled a Department of Corrections administrator employee at her home Wednesday at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary.

TBI said Watson escaped prison grounds, and the tractor was found nearby. Authorities launched an intense manhunt after Debra Johnson's body was found with a cord wrapped around her neck Wednesday morning.

Rewards totaling $57,000 were offered for information leading to Watson's arrest.

"Tremendous news that this fugitive is back in custody," Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said on Twitter.

Watson was discovered missing about 11 a.m. Wednesday, several hours after he was seen near the house where the 64-year-old Johnson lived on prison grounds.

According to a TBI affidavit, Watson had been released temporarily for mowing duties at 7 a.m. earlier that day, and had access to a golf cart and a tractor. As a "trusty" at the prison, he was allowed to use the equipment and had to wear a reflective vest while working on prison grounds.

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 the affidavit. He drove away from the prison sometime between 9 and 10 a.m. on a tractor, the affidavit said.

When Johnson didn't show up for work, co-workers discovered Johnson's body at her home at 11:30 a.m., according to the affidavit. The medical examiner declared her death a homicide by strangulation, the affidavit said.

Watson had been serving a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty to especially aggravated kidnapping in Henry County. Watson illegally confined his wife while using an aluminum baseball bat in July 2012, court documents showed. His sentence began in 2013 and was set to expire in 2025, officials said.

Watson had previously been convicted of aggravated child abuse in Carroll County. His sentence in that case expired in 2011, officials said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 813481

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1139971910
Mobile722271323
Madison51970686
Shelby37279341
Baldwin37069540
Tuscaloosa34934599
Montgomery33953725
Lee23142240
Calhoun22142470
Morgan20639372
Etowah19758496
Marshall18245300
Houston17302405
St. Clair15912337
Cullman15306290
Limestone15202198
Elmore15075284
Lauderdale14143294
Talladega13715272
DeKalb12569259
Walker11085366
Blount10094174
Autauga9893146
Jackson9789180
Coffee9182189
Dale8859181
Colbert8789200
Tallapoosa7044195
Escambia6732127
Covington6682179
Chilton6587160
Russell625958
Franklin5930105
Chambers5559142
Marion4955126
Dallas4882199
Clarke472782
Pike4719105
Geneva4564126
Winston4473101
Lawrence4264117
Bibb421686
Barbour355475
Marengo334089
Monroe330262
Randolph327063
Butler324794
Pickens313882
Henry310965
Hale309187
Cherokee299957
Fayette290679
Washington250951
Cleburne246958
Crenshaw243575
Clay240367
Macon230562
Lamar215846
Conecuh185652
Coosa178538
Lowndes173761
Wilcox167438
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131038
Greene125544
Choctaw86927
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A cold front passing through our area overnight will bring into our area some of the coolest temperatures of the season so far. We will see most of the highs this weekend only in the upper 60s to lower 70s. While overnight lows will drop off down into the 40s Saturday night.
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