Curtis Ray Watson escaped the West Tennessee State Penitentiary, located just north of Memphis, on Wednesday.
Watson was on his usual lawn mowing duty when he reportedly sexually assaulted and strangled a female corrections administrator before escaping prison grounds on a tractor, authorities said.
Debra Johnson, 64, was found dead inside her home on Wednesday morning, officials said.
The TBI said late Thursday afternoon that it had secured warrants for Watson for first-degree murder, especially aggravated burglary and aggravated sexual battery but didn't include details of the charges or say whether they all pertained to Johnson. TBI shared the following previous mug shots of Watson to give people in the area an idea of what he might look like if he shaved his facial hair or tried to change his appearance. Residents been asked to check trail cameras and any video surveillance for possible sightings and to check on neighbors.
Roadblocks and checkpoints have been set up near Henning, with authorities searching vehicles for Watson.
Henry County Sheriff Monte Belew said he's been in touch with at least five of Watson's relatives in the Paris area; all are cooperating with law enforcement. Railroad tracks also crisscross a landscape dotted by small towns and cities. Rausch said there have been no credible sightings of Watson. Most recently, Johnson worked at the correctional administrator for West Tennessee, giving her oversight of four prisons.
Watson had been serving a 15-year sentence for aggravated kidnapping at the time of the escape. Watson was in prison since 2013 and was not due for release until May 2025. He was previously convicted of aggravated child abuse. His sentence in that case expired in 2011, officials said.
(WDEF) - Governor Bill Lee announces a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrested and conviction of Curtis Watson. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is offering a $7,500 reward on top of that, for a total of $32,500.
He was originally considered a person of interest in the homicide of Debra Johnson, 64, but is now a suspect after the state's Violent Crime Response team concluded their investigation at the crime scene, David Rausch, director of the TBI, said at a press conference Thursday.