Five days after escaping from prison, a Tennessee inmate emerged from a field on Sunday, weathered and mosquito-bitten, and surrendered to police, officials said.
The inmate, Curtis Ray Watson, was captured roughly ten miles from the prison, the West Tennessee State Penitentiary, in Henning, Tennessee, about an hour’s drive northeast of Memphis. Officials said he had sexually assaulted and killed a veteran prison executive and then fled on a tractor on Wednesday.
Watson looked “relieved to be over with his run,” David Rausch, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said at a news conference. “He knew he wasn’t getting away because of the number of law enforcement that was present.”
Just before 11 am, Watson, with his hands raised, knelt down as a correctional officer and a parole officer took him into custody, officials said.
Authorities were at the “right place at the right time,” said Tony Parker, the commissioner of the state Department of Correction.
Harvey and Ann Taylor were awakened on Sunday night by their security system, which alerted them that someone was behind their home on Graves Avenue in Henning, TN. They reviewed the footage and saw a man looking in their outdoor refrigerator, recognized him as the escapee, and then called 911, they said at the news conference.
Within 30 minutes of the call, hundreds of law enforcement officers descended and conducted both ground and air searches, Mr. Rausch said.
The Department of Correction posted an alert that said Watson had changed clothes and was wearing camouflage overalls and a hat and carrying a backpack.
Moments after the capture, the bureau posted a video of Watson, in handcuffs, being placed in a police vehicle, which was surrounded by onlookers.
Watson was taken to a hospital. There was no indication anyone had helped him in the escape, Mr. Rausch said.
On the day of his escape, Watson was on his prison work assignment mowing lawns, according to officials and court records. As a jail trustee, he had access to prison equipment, including a golf cart and a tractor.
Between 9 and 10 am, Watson drove away on a tractor, according to court records.
Officials say Watson killed the prison executive, Debra Kaye Johnson, who had been with the Department of Correction for 38 years and who lived in a state-owned house on the prison grounds. Her body was found at 11:30 a.m. at her home with ligature marks and a cord wrapped around her neck. The medical examiner’s office determined that she had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
“I’ve never met someone more dedicated,” Mr. Parker said. “She served us and the people of Tennessee well.”