Charges shed light on corrections administrator’s death

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LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. — A day after corrections administrator Debra Johnson's murder, yellow tape still surrounds her house on the grounds of the West Tennessee State Penitentiary near Henning.

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies from across the state continued their search for Curtis Ray Watson, the escaped inmate they've charged with Johnson's murder.

Based on the list of charges the TBI released Thursday, it appears Watson broke into Johnson's house and sexually assaulted her. He's charged with first degree murder, aggravated sexual battery and especially aggravated burglary.

"It scares you. I mean, you don’t know where he’s gonna turn up or what else he’s gonna do," said Debbie White, who lives a few miles from the prison.

Debra Johnson

“If he did what he did to get out, then to me he’s a desperate man on the run," White said.

People who live in the immediate area are desperate for Watson to be found, but they're reassured by the troopers and corrections officers that can be seen on almost every corner.

They've set up check points at roads leading to and from the prison and WREG saw them scanning nearby fields Thursday afternoon.

Still, some are convinced the man they're looking for is long gone.

“I’m concerned about the rest of the people, but I don’t think he’s coming up to my house ‘cause I can’t even cook good," said Jean Hopkins.

Watson, who was serving time for kidnapping his wife, was classified as a minimum security inmate and allowed to do farm work. The TBI revealed Wednesday that he escaped the prison on a tractor before abandoning it about a mile-and-a-half away.

“I hope they get him caught soon and bring him to justice and then we can all go back to our normal life," said White.

The reward for information leading to Watson's capture now stands at $52,000. The TBI says he stands about 5' 11" and probably weighs between 180 and 200 pounds.

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