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Boyfriend sent to prison for kidnapping, murdering retired Army master sergeant girlfriend before discarding remains in desert outside Las Vegas

Jerry Jay, Cecilia Finona

Jerry Jay, Cecelia Finona (Farmington Police Department)

The man who pleaded guilty to kidnapping his then-girlfriend and hitting her in the back of the head with the butt of an ax before discarding her remains in the desert outside of Las Vegas was sentenced to spend the next three decades behind prison walls.

Jerry Jay, a 61-year-old from Farmington, New Mexico, was sentenced Thursday to 33 years for the 2019 first-degree kidnapping and second-degree murder of 59-year-old retired Army master sergeant Cecelia Barber Finona, a Navajo woman. Authorities said that the case was the first to be prosecuted under a 2022 bill to help bring justice to murdered and missing indigenous people and their families (see here for more).

“Finona was reported missing by her family in 2019, her remains were found in Las Vegas, Nevada two years later,” the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office said. “On May 31, 2019 Jay murdered Finona after striking her in the back of the head with what was believed to be the blunt end of an ax, she was still alive when Jay placed her in the back of her own truck. Jay then proceeded to cross multiple state lines in the truck, using Finona’s debit card along the way to pay for new truck tires and gas before dumping her body in a remote desert culvert just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.”

More Law&Crime Coverage: New Mexico Child Abuser Who Dismembered a 10-Year-Old Girl Slain on Her Birthday Is Sentenced to Prison

Prosecutors said that Finona’s remains were not found until February 2021. Shockingly, Jay was accused of using the victim’s debit card while she was considered a missing person — and what he allegedly told an inmate was incriminating, to say the least.

“While incarcerated, Jay disclosed to his jailmate how he had murdered Finona and in fact had murdered a previous girlfriend but ‘learned how to do it better this time,'” according to prosecutors. “These statements, along with video evidence, financial records, and extensive forensic evidence connected Jay to the murder and the ultimate identification of Cecilia’s body in Nevada and the circumstances of her disappearance in New Mexico.”

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez said that Finona was a loving mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, a “bright light,” and the “complete opposite” of the man who admitted murdering her. She served in the U.S. military for 31 years before retiring.

“Cecilia was a loving mother, generous neighbor and a celebrated veteran, qualities that would be appreciated in any community. Jerry Jay took a bright light from the world in 2019 and for that he received the sentence that he deserves. I thank our prosecution team along with the San Juan County prosecutors for their dedication to this case and to Cecilia,” Torres said.

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.