Prison employee was sexually assaulted, strangled before Tenn. inmate escaped, affidavit says

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LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - New details from a police affidavit reveal a Tennessee prison employee was sexually assaulted and strangled when she was killed.

Curtis Ray Watson is accused of killing a corrections employee and escaping a prison. (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation)

The search is ongoing for escaped inmate Curtis Ray Watson. He is suspected of killing a prison administrator, Debra Johnson, in her home on prison grounds Wednesday.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation now has warrants for Watson for first degree murder, especially aggravated burglary and aggravated sexual battery in connection with Johnson’s death.

According to the affidavit, correctional officers saw Watson on a golf cart at Johnson’s house, which is on prison grounds, at 8:30 a.m. Watson was working as a trusty at the prison at the time and was released from the prison on work detail at 7 a.m. for his duties as a mower.

Investigators said Watson stole a tractor and a reflective vest from the prison and drove away sometime between 9 and 10 a.m.

Prison officials realized Watson was missing at 11 a.m. Johnson’s body was discovered at 11:30 when coworkers noticed she had not reported to work. A cord was found wrapped around Johnson’s neck, and it was determined she was strangled to death. Investigators also found evidence that she had been sexually assaulted. The reflective vest was found inside Johnson’s home.

The tractor Watson is accused of stealing was found at 1:30 p.m., about two miles from the prison. Police also found Watson’s prison identification card.

TBI and the Tennessee Department of Correction gave a brief update on the search from the prison Friday afternoon. So far, investigators have received more than 200 tips of possible sightings but none have been confirmed.

There is a $52,500 reward offered for any information leading to Watson’s arrest.

If you see Watson, call 911 and don’t approach him. If you have a tip on where he may be headed, contact local law enforcement.

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Debra Johnson (Source: Tennessee DOC)

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