RIPLEY, TN (WSMV) - Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Department of Correction, state Department of Safety, and Attorney General's Office of the 25th District spoke out Sunday afternoon regarding the capture of escaped inmate Curtis Ray Watson.
The couple who spotted Watson on their property early Sunday morning also spoke at the press conference at the Lauderdale County Justice Complex.
Harvey and Ann Taylor said they were awoken at around 3:30 a.m. Sunday by an alarm on their doorbell. The Taylor family pulled up surveillance footage from a camera on their doorbell which showed a man in their backyard. The footage then showed the man near the backdoor, rummaging through their refrigerator. Once the man closed the refrigerator's door, Ann Taylor said she saw the man had a beard and was wearing camouflage, fitting Watson's description. Harvey Taylor then grabbed a weapon to prepare himself in case Watson decided to enter the house and called 911.
The couple said they were both relieved that Watson was back in custody.
TBI Director David Rausch said the Taylor family's Ring camera gave a clear photo of Watson, and within half an hour of the 911 call from the Taylor's home, hundreds of law enforcement had the escapee contained on the ground.
Rausch explained that at about 10:55 a.m., TDOC and THP officers spotted Watson coming out of a soybean field about 750 feet from the Taylor's residence.
The fugitive surrendered after leaving a wooded area that was about 10 miles from the prison where the escape happened, the TBI Director said.
TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker thanked Correction Officer Ashley Bird and Probation and Parole officer Jessica Brown for their hard work in bringing Watson into custody, as well as the multiple law enforcement agencies who worked tirelessly over the last five days to search for the escapee. About 300 - 400 individuals from local, state, and federal levels of law enforcement searched for Watson.
All state officials who spoke at the press conference Sunday extended their sympathies and condolences to the family of Debra Johnson, the TDOC administrator who was killed at her home on the property of the West Tennessee State Penitentiary prior to Watson's escape. The motive for her murder remains unclear.
Parker said a GoFundMe account has been set up for Johnson's family, and there are other special honors in the works for Johnson, who worked for 38 years in the Correction Department.
"She was a true correction professional, and had a love for the work she did," Parker said.
Prosecutors said they will do everything they can to be sure Watson will be held accountable for his actions and crimes. Mark Davidson, Attorney General for the 25th District, said the suspect went from being an escaped convict to an accused criminal, facing charges of first degree murder, especially aggravated burglary, aggravated sexual battery, and escape.
Davidson said they will be looking at whether Watson will potentially face the death penalty. The Attorney General explained that the suspect would be arraigned in Lauderdale County court this week. The court later sent an advisory that the arraignment would be held Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. inside the Lauderdale County Justice Center.
The TBI Director said upon his capture, Watson reportedly said that he was relieved to be over with his run, and that he had made the comment he knew he was not going to get away.
Rausch said Watson was taken to a hospital to be treated, as the suspect was weathered from being outdoors in the elements. The TBI Director said Watson had mosquito bites, issues with his feet because of wetness, and had to have ticks removed.
There were no indications anyone assisted Watson, Rausch said. "He took clothes from other locations," when asked by reporters about why the fugitive was wearing camouflage clothing rather than prison clothing upon his capture.
It's not clear whether Watson was armed. The TBI Director said Watson had a backpack with him at the time of his capture, but investigators had not gone through it completely.