A Tennessee convict who sparked a five-day manhunt following his prison escape and alleged murder of a correctional administrator last week was captured after home surveillance video caught him rifling through a married couple’s refrigerator at their home, investigators and the pair said Sunday.
Curtis Watson surrendered without incident several hours after law enforcement received a tip about his whereabouts in the West Tennessee town of Henning. Hundreds of law enforcement personnel converged near a soybean field where they took a disheveled Watson wearing camouflage overalls into custody after a ground and air search, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch said at a Sunday news conference.
“The pressure they put on Watson while he was on the run was absolutely critical,” Rausch said.
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The field was located 10 miles from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary where Watson made his Aug. 7 escape.
Harvey Taylor said he and his wife Ann were asleep in their home around 3:30 a.m. when they were awakened by their outdoor security alarm. When they looked at the video system, they spotted a man going through their refrigerator.
They called police after recognizing Watson from news coverage surrounding his escape.
“Once he closed the left side of the refrigerator door, my wife could his face… she said, ‘That’s him, that’s him,’ Taylor said. Watson was captured around 11 a.m.
An intense search for the 44-year-old started after he escaped from prison during his daily lawn-mowing detail. He had been serving a 15-year sentence for aggravated kidnapping. He illegally confined his wife while using an aluminum baseball bat in July 2012, court documents showed. His sentence began in 2013 and was set to expire in 2025, officials said.
Around 11 a.m. on the morning of Watson’s escape, prison officials said they realized employee Debra Johnson was missing after she didn’t report to work.
Johnson, 64, was found dead soon afterward in her home on the prison grounds. Investigators said she was sexually assaulted and strangled to death. Correctional officers reported they saw Watson riding a golf cart at Johnson’s house the morning she died.
Johnson worked for the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) for 38 years in various roles that included correctional sergeant, deputy warden and warden. She was the first TDOC employee to be killed in 15 years, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reported.
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Following his arrest, Watson was taken to a hospital, officials said. He had mosquito bites and his feet were in bad shape, but had no serious injuries.
“He was obviously weathered from his time in the outside,” Rausch said.
Watson’s daughter, Harley Pole, thanked law enforcement in a statement issued shortly after her father was captured.
“The family of Curtis Watson would like to extend their deepest and most heartfelt sympathies to the family of Ms Debra Johnson,” Pole said.
Watson faced new charges of first-degree murder, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated burglary and escaping from prison. Prosecutors were set to determine whether they’d seek the death penalty, Lauderdale County District Attorney Mark Davidson said.
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“I can assure you that our office will be resolved to see that he is put back where he can never escape again and harm anybody in our communities,” Davidson added.
An arraignment is expected later this week.