Debra Johnson is believed to have been murdered by an escaped inmate.
 - Photo: ODMP

Debra Johnson is believed to have been murdered by an escaped inmate.

Photo: ODMP

Debra Johnson, 64, was found murdered in the staff housing where she lived on the premises of the West Tennessee State Penitentiary Wednesday morning, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction. An escaped inmate is the prime suspect.

Curtis Ray Watson, 44, escaped from the prison Wednesday on a tractor, and was initially named a person of interest in Johnson's homicide Wednesday. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch said during a news conference Thursday afternoon that agents are working with Lauderdale County’s district attorney to charge Curtis Ray Watson in the death of West Tennessee State Penitentiary employee Debra Johnson. Rausch said Watson is now considered a suspect in Johnson’s death, reports WBBJ.

Gov. Bill Lee announced during the news conference that a $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to Watson’s arrest. The current total reward offered for information leading to the capture and conviction of Watson stands at $52,500. That includes $10,000 each from the FBI and U.S. Marshals, the reward announced by Gov. Lee, a $5,000 reward offered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and another $2,500 from the TBI.

Johnson was the correctional administrator for TDOC facilities in West Tennessee. She oversaw the wardens of regional prisons and reported to the assistant commissioner of the agency, reports the Commercial Appeal.

"She led a distinguished career over 38 years of service to the people of this great state," TDOC commissioner Tony Parker said Wednesday evening at a news conference in Nashville.

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