Curtis Watson to face grand jury for death of TDOC Administrator Debra Johnson

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LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Lauderdale County judge determined there is enough evidence for accused murderer Curtis Watson to face a grand jury in February.

Watson faces charges for sexual battery and the murder strangulation of Tennessee Department of Correction Administrator Debra Johnson on August 7, 2019.

“I could see Deborah laying on the bed,” Johnson’s friend and colleague, Trinity Minter, testified Wednesday.

She and two other staff members were first to find Johnson in her home on prison grounds that morning.

“From the time that I went in the house, I felt like I couldn’t leave her…… so I stayed in the doorway,” Minter testified.

Investigators say Watson sexually assaulted and then strangled Johnson to death with a phone cord, before escaping and leading state agencies on a 5-day manhunt.

“I remember the nurse saying to me, ‘she has a cord around her neck, can I take the chord off?” Minter recalled, “And I told her absolutely.”

One of those prison nurses, who responded to the call and administered CPR, was Shannon Murphy, a registered nurse, with the West Tennessee State Penitentiary.

Murphy began to cry when she was asked to review photos of Johnson’s body.

“She was still on the bed, so I started the chest compressions, put my hands on her chest, and started the chest compressions,” Murphy testified.

Watson’s defense attorneys questioned witnesses on wearing gloves and moving evidence.

The medical examiner stated even though evidence had been moved, marks from her violent death remained.

A Tennessee Bureau of Investigations investigator also testified that results from a rape kit performed on Johnson did not rule out Watson as a match.

The district attorney spoke for Johnson’s family after the hearing.

“They’re pleased with the outcome of today’s hearing and they’re you know, ready to move forward to the next step of these proceedings,” said Mark Davidson, the Lauderdale County District Attorney, “And, they’re a very tight-knit family, very supportive of each other and we were glad to have them hear to watch the hearing.”

Davidson said this case is eligible for the death penalty, but they will make that decision prior to indictment.

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