RIPLEY, TN (WSMV) - Newly-released affidavits from Lauderdale County Circuit Court show TDOC Administrator Debra Johnson was strangled and sexually assaulted, reportedly by escaped inmate Curtis Ray Watson.
According to court records, Johnson was found dead in her home on Highway 87 West in Henning on the grounds of the West Tennessee State Penitentiary. At 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 7, Watson was released from the prison on work detail to begin daily mowing duties.
Watson was a reported "trusty" at the prison and had access to prison equipment including a golf cart and tractor. Watson was required to wear a reflective vest on the prison grounds while working.
Based on phone records, Watson was alive and reportedly on the phone talking to someone around 8:10 a.m. Correctional officers saw Watson on the golf cart at Johnson's house around 8:30 a.m. Watson took a tractor and reflective vest from prison and drove away between 9 and 10 a.m. Watson requested the reflective vest from another inmate at the prison.
Prison officials realized Watson was missing around 11 a.m. and also noticed Johnson did not report to work as usual. Coworkers went to her home to see if she was there and discovered her body around 11:30 a.m. A reflective vest was found inside her home.
The tractor Watson was driving was found around 1:30 p.m. about 2 miles away from the prison and his prison identification card was also found at the scene.
During the investigation, it was discovered Johnson had a cord wrapped around her neck as well as ligature marks indicating she had been strangled. The Medical Examiner's Office concluded the cause of death was strangulation and the manner of death was a homicide. There was also evidence that Johnson was sexually assaulted.
The hunt for Watson continues, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture. The TBI will hold a news conference Friday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. with an update on the manhunt.
The Tennessee Department of Corrections and Tennessee Highway Patrol will escort the body of fallen Correctional Administrator, Debra Johnson, back to Nashville this afternoon, leaving Memphis at approximately 4pm, and due to arrive in Nashville at approximately 7pm.