Attorneys await results of mental evaluation of prison escapee Curtis Ray Watson, charged in TDOC administrator’s murder

Attorneys await results of mental evaluation of prison escapee Curtis Ray Watson, charged in TDOC administrator’s murder
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation shared this picture of Curtis Watson taken moments after his capture Aug. 11, 2019.

LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - Curtis Ray Watson did not make a Wednesday trip from Nashville to Ripley for a status hearing in his case as defense attorneys and prosecutors are waiting on his completed mental evaluation before they can move ahead.

Public defenders for the escapee and accused murderer told a Lauderdale County judge Wednesday they're hoping Watson's forensic evaluation can be completed in October. They also said it's likely the evaluation by a physician will be done remotely by teleconference since Watson is housed at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution (RMSI) in Nashville.

911 calls revealed in capture of escaped inmate

The evaluation will lay out an opinion on Watson’s competency to stand trial and his sanity at the time of the alleged offenses.

“If for some reason, they found an issue with competency or sanity, then we would discuss internally whether or not we wanted to do another evaluation,” said Mark Davidson, district attorney general for the 25th Judicial District.

Watson was captured in early August after a five-day manhunt by state and federal agencies in Lauderdale County. Investigators said the one-time trusty at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning strangled TDOC administrator Debra Johnson at her home on the prison grounds and sexually assaulted her. The 64-year-old grandmother was a 38-year state employee.

The alleged crime garnered significant national attention, and the TBI handed out more than $32,000 in rewards to citizens who helped capture Watson. Additional funds could be awarded pending a conviction in the case.

“It’s an extremely important case to us, to the family, and we are going to use all our resources to handle it right and see that justice is served,” said Davidson.

Davidson said the case against Watson qualifies as a death penalty case, but his team hasn’t made a final decision on whether to go that route. It’s a determination he expects to be complete by the time the case is presented to a Lauderdale County grand jury for indictment.

“That’s something we are still discussing and exploring,” Davidson said. “And it’s something we will be discussing with the family. We want to get through the evaluation process first.”

Attorneys set another status hearing date in the case for Nov. 21. They’re hoping they can have the evaluation report in at that time and set a date for a preliminary hearing.

Lawyers for Watson declined to comment after Wednesday’s hearing.

Copyright 2019 WMC. All rights reserved.