RIPLEY, TN (WSMV) - The latest details on late TDOC Administrator Debra Johnson reveal she was strangled and sexually assaulted, according to affidavits from Lauderdale County Circuit Court. 

During the investigation, it was discovered Johnson had a cord wrapped around her neck as well as ligature marks indicating she had been strangled. The Medical Examiner's Office concluded the cause of death was strangulation and the manner of death was a homicide. There was also evidence that Johnson was sexually assaulted.

According to court records, Johnson was found dead in her home on Highway 87 West in Henning on the grounds of the West Tennessee State Penitentiary. At 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 7, Watson was released from the prison on work detail to begin daily mowing duties.

Watson was a reported "trusty" at the prison and had access to prison equipment including a golf cart and tractor. Watson was required to wear a reflective vest on the prison grounds while working.

Based on phone records, Watson was alive and reportedly on the phone talking to someone around 8:10 a.m. Correctional officers saw Watson on the golf cart at Johnson's house around 8:30 a.m. Watson took a tractor and reflective vest from prison and drove away between 9 and 10 a.m. Watson requested the reflective vest from another inmate at the prison.

Prison officials realized Watson was missing around 11 a.m. and also noticed Johnson did not report to work as usual. Coworkers went to her home to see if she was there and discovered her body around 11:30 a.m. A reflective vest was found inside her home.

The tractor Watson was driving was found around 1:30 p.m. about 2 miles away from the prison and his prison identification card was also found at the scene.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, the TBI said it had received 250 tips about Watson's whereabouts, but none proved to be credible.

Johnson's body was brought from Memphis to the Smith Brothers Funeral Home in Nashville with an escort from the Tennessee Department of Correction and Tennessee Highway Patrol. The procession left Memphis just before 5 p.m. and arrived at a Nashville funeral home around 7:30 p.m.

A visitation for Johnson will be held on Thursday, Aug. 15 from 3-7 p.m. at 15th Avenue Church in North Nashville. The funeral will be held at Temple Church on Kings Lane on Friday, Aug. 16. A visitation will be from 10 a.m. -noon, followed by the funeral service. 

 

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A New York City native and a graduate of the Mizzou School of Journalism, Ethan joined the WSMV Digital Team in June 2019. Send him story ideas, food recommendations and sports topics to Ethan.Illers@wsmv.com and follow him on Twiiter @EthanIllers_TV!

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