RIPLEY, Tenn. (AP) — A mental evaluation by video conference will help determine whether a convict accused of killing a Tennessee corrections administrator before escaping prison is competent to stand trial, lawyers said Wednesday.
Attorneys for Curtis Ray Watson said during a hearing that a forensic evaluation could take place in October for the two-time felon.
Watson was on lawn mowing duties at West Tennessee State Penitentiary on Aug. 7 when he went to Debra Johnson’s home on prison grounds and killed and sexually assaulted the corrections administrator, authorities said.
Watson, 44, then escaped on a tractor and eluded law enforcement for four days until his arrest, investigators said. He was arrested hours after he was recorded on surveillance cameras outside a home in Henning, 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the prison.
Lawyers say the evaluation will likely be done by video because Watson is behind bars at a maximum-security prison in Nashville, about 170 miles (274 kilometers) east of Ripley, where court proceedings are taking place.
“Typically, it’s done in person, but typically, people are incarcerated more locally,” Davidson said. “This is kind of unusual.”
The evaluation will determine whether Watson was sane when he engineered his escape and whether he is competent to face court proceedings on charges of first-degree murder, especially aggravated burglary, aggravated sexual assault and escape.
Watson has not entered a plea in the case. Prosecutors are considering seeking the death penalty if Watson is convicted of the first-degree murder, Lauderdale County district attorney Mark Davidson said.
Once the evaluation is done, it could take three to four weeks for doctors to complete a report, defense attorney David S. Stockton told Judge Janice Craig during the hearing.
Watson has been serving a 15-year sentence for especially aggravated kidnapping. He also had been previously convicted of aggravated child abuse. Watson had access to a tractor and a golf cart as a “trusty” — an inmate granted special privileges as a trustworthy person, authorities said.
Johnson, 64, had been a state employee for 38 years and oversaw wardens at several area prisons.
A hearing on the status of the mental evaluation is set for Nov. 21 in Ripley.
By ADRIAN SAINZ
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