RIPLEY – Harvey and Ann Johnson were awakened Sunday morning by an alarm from their Ring camera.
It told them someone was in the backyard of their Graves Avenue home.
“We pulled it up on the screens so that we could see it in the house,” Harvey told reporters during Sunday afternoon’s press conference. “He was in the refrigerator.”
At first they could only see his back, but Ann recognized his face once she could see it.
“She recognized his beard,” he said. “She said, ‘That’s him! That’s him!'”
Harvey grabbed his weapon, then they called 911.
“From there, with God’s help, they got him. Our community can be relieved.”
The ground and air search began in the community east of Hwy. 51, with helicopters hovering above the Dollar General and Lauderdale Lumber Company for most of the morning. Up to 400 law enforcement officers were in the woods near Graves and Caroline, closing in on him.
Tennessee Department of Corrections Officers Ashley Bird and Board of Prison and Parole Officer Jessica Brown took him into custody in a soybean field.
Watson was arrested without incident just before 11 a.m. approximately 750 feet from the Taylor home and 10 miles from the prison.
“He came out of the wooded area and went to his knees and gave up immediately,” Rausch said. “That’s how he was taken into custody.”
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, of the 490 received, that tip was the first and only credible sighting of Watson during the five-day manhunt.
Harvey said he was frightened when he found a man in his yard in the middle of the night.
“When we found out who it was it heightened that fear,” he said.
Ann said the surveillance footage help calm them, however.
“I think because we were looking at the Ring and we could see every move he was making it made us feel safer as long as he didn’t try to get in the house.”
Death penalty may be sought
District Attorney General Mark Davidson said the state may pursue the death penalty for Watson.
“Today Curtis Ray Watson went from being an escaped convict to being a criminal defendant facing charges for first degree murder, aggravated sexual battery, especially aggravated burglary and escape. I assure you our office would be resolved to put him back where he can never escape again.”
Watson, who turned 44 the day of his escape, received medical treatment and was booked into the Tipton County Jail Sunday afternoon.
“He was obviously weathered from his time outside,” said Rausch, noting Watson had mosquito bites, problems with his feet from being in water, ticks on his body and other minor injuries. “He was relieved to be over with his run.”
Rausch also said Watson seemed to have acted alone in his escape and told police he knew he wouldn’t get away because there were so many of them.
He is set to be arraigned this week in Lauderdale County General Sessions Court.
Harvey said he never imagined he and Ann would be the ones to help find Curtis Watson.
Now he’s just relieved, he said.
“I’m just relieved it went the way it did.”
A total $57,000 reward was being offered for Watson’s apprehension and conviction.
The TBI said distribution of the reward has not yet been discussed.
‘Unmatched’ effort during search
TBI Director David Rausch said the collaborative effort during the manhunt was “unmatched.”
“Four days with no sleep, it’s amazing what they accomplished,” he said.
The TBI led the search effort, said spokeswoman Keli McAlister, but it also involved Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Department of Corrections, FBI, US Marshals, Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office, Tipton County Sheriff’s Office, Henry County Sheriff’s Office, Memphis Police, Collierville Police and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
“It’s always a great day in Tennessee when you get a dangerous criminal like this off the street and get them apprehended,” said Jeff Long, the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. “To the community: We made a vow to you that we would not leave your community until he was in custody … we have lived up to that. We’re just glad the community can get back to the common theme of a community and that is to rest and enjoy their days.”