Murdered TDOC employee was sexually assaulted, died of strangulation

Timeline of events by TBI released
Posted at 12:48 PM, Aug 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-10 22:25:03-04

HENNING, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Tennessee Department of Correction employee allegedly killed by escaped inmate Curtis Watson was sexually assaulted and died of strangulation, according to the affidavit filed by the State of Tennessee.

According to police, Watson was released from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary on work detail at 7 a.m. on August 7th for his daily mowing duties. Watson was a "trusty" at the prison, meaning he had access to prison equipment including a golf cart and tractor.

Editor's Note: We are using the spelling provided in the affidavit of "trusty." Other documents by TDOC use both "trusty" and "trustee." A "trusty" is defined as "a prisoner who is given special privileges or responsibilities in return for good behavior."

Debra Johnson, an administrator for TDOC, lived in a state-owned home on the prison grounds.


According to phone records, Johnson was alive and talking on the phone at 8:10 that morning. At 8:30 a.m., correctional officers saw Watson on a golf cart at her home. Sometime between 9 and 10 a.m., Watson took a tractor and reflective vest and drove away. The vest had been requested from another inmate at the prison, according to the affidavit.

READ MORE: What “extremely dangerous” escaped inmate Curtis Watson was charged with in 2012

Prison officials noticed Watson was missing around 11 a.m.

When Johnson did not report to work as usual, coworkers went to her home and found her body at 11:30 a.m.

Two hours later, prison officials found the tractor Watson was driving 2.1 miles from the prison.

When agents investigated the home, they found a cord wrapped around Johnson's neck, along with marks on her neck. The medical examiner's office later concluded that strangulation was the cause of death, and that Johnson had been sexually assaulted.

Watson was arrested in 2012 after a victim reported a violent rape. He was eventually convicted with especially aggravated kidnapping as part of a plea deal.

You can read the entire affidavit here.

Police escorted Johnson from Memphis to Nashville for the funeral which will be held Friday.

The reward for Watson's capture and Conviction stands at $57,000.

MORE COVERAGE: Manhunt for escaped Tennessee inmate Curtis Ray Watson enters day three