Curtis Ray Watson caught
Debra Johnson

Debra Johnson, Correctional Administrator, was killed near the West Tennessee State Penitentiary. Curtis Ray Watson is a person of interest in the death. (Photo: Tennessee Department of Correction)

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - A plea deal has been offered to Curtis Watson, the man accused of the rape and murder of prison administrator Debra Johnson, according to a source close to the investigation as well as documents sent to Watson.

The plea deal comes after a TBI agent testified during a hearing late last year that DNA was consistent with Watson and did not exclude him.

That terminology means the DNA results did not rule him out from committing the crime.

However, letters sent to Watson, bearing the letter head of the public defender’s office and including specific details of the case and the offer, indicate that DNA at Jones’ home does not match his.

According to copies of those letters obtained by News4 Investigates, the offer is for life in prison as opposed to the death penalty.

A source close to the investigation also confirmed that a plea deal has been offered.

The letters with the public defender letterhead, all with the same font, come eight months after Watson was on the run for five days last August after escaping from West Tennessee State Penitentiary near Henning.

Prosecutor said Watson also raped and murdered Debra Johnson, a prison administrator who lived in a home on the grounds.

In the letters with the public defender leaderhead, Watson is told, “It appears that there was sperm on a quilt that was analyzed and it definitely was not attributed to you and is characterized as from an unknown male. There was no sperm inside the deceased.”

The letter went on to write, “The bottom line here is that if we went to trial, we would have some arguments and science on our side at this point.”

The letters urge Watson to take the deal for “essentially life without parole.”

In a letter to News4 Investigates, Watson stated that he was at fault for escaping the prison, writing, “I did some wrong that day of August 7th. I did not do that to Ms. Johnson. Course even with the DNA finding no one still will believe me.”

After receiving the letter, News4 Investigates reached out to public defender Bo Burk, who could not comment because it is a pending case.

Afterwards, in additional letters with the public defender’s header, Watson is asked if he is communicating with a reporter from NBC, and advised him to stop sharing information about the plea offer.

Dr. Shernaye Johnson, Johnson’s daughter, wrote to News4 Investigates in part, “Every claim will be addressed at the trial. We remain in close contact with the DA’s office and will receive additional information in upcoming weeks.”

District Attorney General Mark Davidson said he could not comment on whether or not a plea deal had been offered, but stressed that in the hearing last year, DNA evidence did not exclude Watson.

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Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the chief investigator for News4 Investigates. His reporting has resulted in criminal convictions, legislative hearings before the U.S. Congress, and the payout of more than a million dollars to scam victims.

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