TBI: Escaped inmate named suspect in prison employee’s death, $52K reward offered

UPDATE: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch said during a news conference Thursday afternoon that agents are working with Lauderdale County’s district attorney to charge Curtis Ray Watson in the death of West Tennessee State Penitentiary employee Debra Johnson. Rausch said Watson is now considered a suspect in Johnson’s death.

Gov. Bill Lee announced during the news conference that a $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to Watson’s arrest. The current total reward offered for information leading to the capture and conviction of Watson stands at $52,500. That includes $10,000 each from the FBI and U.S. Marshals, the reward announced by Gov. Lee, a $5,000 reward offered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and another $2,500 from the TBI.

Earlier story:

LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. — The search continues for an escaped prison inmate who is also a person of interest in the death of a corrections employee.

Curtis Ray Watson, 44, escaped Wednesday from West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning.

Watson is a person of interest in the Wednesday homicide of Debra Johnson. Johnson, 64, worked as a correctional administrator at the prison, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Johnson was a 38-year veteran employee of the state of Tennessee.

The TBI provided an update Thursday morning, saying they are aware of reports of sightings of Watson across the state, including in Marshall County. However, they say there have been no confirmed sightings of him at this time.

The TBI will host a news conference at 12:30 p.m. at TBI Headquarters in Nashville to update the search for Watson. Speakers will include Gov. Bill Lee, TBI Director David Rausch, TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker and others. The TBI plans to stream the conference on Facebook.

Watson is described as standing five feet 11 inches tall and weighing 140 pounds with brown eyes and a long, gray beard. The TBI has released several photos of Watson’s tattoos. See an earlier story with a gallery of those photos here.

Watson is considered dangerous, and authorities say no one should approach him. If you see Watson, call 911 or 1-800-TBI-FIND.

Stay with WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News on air and online for any updates.

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