Tennesee couple's video doorbell system led to capture of 'extremely dangerous' escaped inmate, authorities say

Curtis Watson is a suspect in a homicide case.

August 11, 2019, 12:19 PM

An "extremely dangerous" inmate who escaped from a Tennessee prison last week has been captured, according to authorities.

Homicide suspect Curtis Watson, 44, escaped from work detail on a tractor at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, Tennessee, about 50 miles northeast of Memphis, on Wednesday. The tractor was later found about a mile away from the prison.

Around 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning, police received a tip from Henning residents Harvey and Anne Taylor that they believed they had video surveillance of Watson outside their home, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch told reporters in a news conference.

The couple was woken up by an alarm from their Ring video doorbell system that alerted them someone was in their backyard, Harvey Taylor said. When they pulled up the screen, they saw a man looking in the refrigerator in their carport, but couldn't see his face.

Once Watson closed the refrigerator door, Ann Taylor recognized Watson from his beard, and the couple called 911.

"From there, with God's help, they got him," Harvey Taylor said, saying he was frightened at first.

"Our community should be relieved that he's back in custody," he said.

Within 30 minutes of receiving the Taylors' call, hundreds of law enforcement officers from multiple agencies descended on the area, "which then kept it contained and controlled from that point forward," Rausch said.

Watson was apprehended just before 11 a.m. Sunday after officers spotted him coming out of a soybean field on Caroline Street, about 750 feet away from the Taylor's home and about 10 miles away from the prison, Rausch said.

Watson surrendered "immediately" with his hands up and appeared to be "relieved to be over with his run," Rausch said. He was "weathered from his time outside" and had "a number of mosquito bites" and several ticks on him, Rausch said.

"He made the comment that he knew he wasn't getting away," Rausch said.

Watson was initially considered a person of interest in the murder of 64-year-old Debra Johnson, the West Tennessee administrator for the department of corrections, who was found dead in her home Wednesday morning with a cord wrapped around her neck. Johnson lived on prison grounds.

Investigators later named Watson a suspect in Johnson's death after the state's Violent Crime Response team concluded their investigation at the crime scene. The TBI had secured warrants for Watson on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated burglary and aggravated sexual battery.

PHOTO: Debra Johnson, 64, was found dead inside her home on Wednesday morning, officials said.
Debra Johnson, 64, was found dead inside her home on Wednesday morning, officials said.
Tennessee Department of Corrections

Johnson died from strangulation and had been sexually assaulted during the attack, according to court documents.

It was not immediately clear whether Watson and Johnson had been in contact before, but one official said it was "not uncommon for her to know the inmates who work on the property."

Johnson had been employed by the state for 38 years and "was very well regarded with staff and inmate population," Tony Parker, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Corrections, said at the press conference Thursday.

Watson was serving a sentence for especially aggravated kidnapping, which he was convicted of in 2013, according to the TBI. His prior conviction for child abuse expired in 2011, authorities said.

PHOTO: Curtis Ray Watson is seen in this undated booking photo.
Curtis Ray Watson is seen in this undated booking photo.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation via AP

Mark Davidson, district attorney for the 25th judicial district in Tennessee, vowed to put Watson "back where he can never escape again and harm anybody." Prosecutors are inquiring as to whether they will seek the death penalty, Davidson said.

"Rest assured this defendant will not be able to escape again and menace our community any more," Davidson said.

A reward of $52,000 had been offered for information leading to Watson's capture.

ABC News' Josh Hoyos, Ella Torres and Matt Zarrell contributed to this report.