Reverend remembers slain prison worker as accused inmate expected to take plea deal


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee convict charged in a 2019 murder and rape of a West Tennessee prison administrator is expected to plead guilty.

Curtis Watson, the man charged with murdering 64-year-old Debra Johnson, is scheduled to be in court Monday to discuss a possible plea deal.

| Tennessee convict charged in 2019 murder, rape of TDOC administrator expected to plead guilty

The August 2019 murder and escape outraged many. Watson is the man charged with killing Tennessee Department of Correction Administrator Debra Johnson before escaping on prison tractor and being on the run for days.

Almost two years later, Watson is scheduled to be in court Monday to possibly plead guilty.

“We’re going to trust the justice system to work out those issues as it sees fit,” said the Rev. Dr. David Latimore, pastor of the Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Nashville where Debra Johnson was a longtime member and served on the usher board.

“We have put our focus less on the individual involved in this crime and more on the celebration of the life of Sister Johnson, which is what she would have done. She would have looked for the places of positivity,” he said.

Police say Watson took her life. He was on regular lawn care duties at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary near Henning when he sexually assaulted and killed Johnson at her home on the prison grounds.

| More coverage: Curtis Watson

He has been indicted on 15 counts. The charges include premeditated murder, rape and escape.

Johnson had been a state employee for 38 years and was in charge of overseeing wardens at several prisons and changing lives.

“She touched the lives of individuals big and small in ways that didn’t always get noticed by outsiders, but left indelible marks on the lives of men and women that she was in fellowship with,” Latimore said.

He said Johnson should not be just be remembered in the way her life was taken by Curtis Watson, but in the way she lived her life everyday helping others in the community and those behind prison walls.

“It was remarkable to hear stories of people who had been in those institutions incarcerated and yet to come out and speak so positively about their encounters with Sister Johnson, and to me that’s a real testimony about her own beliefs systems and her own ethics and quality of the individual that Sister Johnson was,” Latimore said.

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