Trial for convict accused in murder of Tennessee prison official moved to 2021

Local News

RIPLEY, Tenn. (AP/WKRN) — The trial of a Tennessee convict charged with killing a corrections official before escaping prison on a tractor has been delayed until next year.

Curtis Watson had been scheduled to face trial Oct. 26 in the killing of Tennessee Department of Correction administrator Debra Johnson. Her body was found in her home on the grounds of a state prison in Henning in August 2019.

Watson is charged with premeditated murder, rape and escape. He has not entered a plea.

Curtis Watson
This photo provided by The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation shows Curtis Ray Watson. Authorities say Watson, a convict suspected of killing a corrections administrator before escaping prison on a tractor has been captured. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said on Twitter that Watson was caught Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. (Courtesy: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation)

Watson’s lawyer, David Stockton, said a judge has moved the trial to Sept. 20, 2021. Stockton said he hasn’t had face-to-face contact with Watson since March due to coronavirus-related policies at the prison where Watson is held.

Jury trials in Lauderdale County have been reset until January, at the earliest.

Authorities said Watson sexually assaulted and strangled Johnson in her home. Watson escaped, but was found four days later. Watson is serving a 15-year sentence for kidnapping.

Johnson was known as “queen” inside the Tennessee Women’s prison, the building now renamed the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center in her honor.

“My mother gave everyone a chance, not a second chance just gave them a chance. It’s comforting to know you impacted people in that way,” said Johnson’s son Mychal Austin.

“I can say I feel better now than I have over any period since she’s been gone. It’s because I know how much this building was to her, what it meant to her, and her career and these inmates, these prisoners, some of them are here to honor her and just to make sure all the work she did didn’t go in vain and that someone will honor it and recognize it and continue her legacy was just the most beautiful and blessed thing we could have gotten.”

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