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Tennessee Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty for Couple Charged with Woman’s ‘Especially Heinous’ Kidnapping, Torture, Rape, and Murder

Rebecca Dishman, Sean Finnegan

Rebecca Dishman, Sean Finnegan

Warning: The details in this story include descriptions of rape and torture that may be disturbing to some readers.

Tennessee prosecutors announced that the state will seek the death penalty for a man and woman accused of, among other crimes, brutally raping and murdering 36-year-old Jennifer Gail Paxton in 2019. Anderson County District Attorney General Dave Clark on Monday formally filed notice with the court stating that he intends to seek the death penalty in the cases against Sean Finnegan and Rebecca Dishman, Knoxville CBS affiliate WVLT-TV reported.

Clark reportedly said the purpose of providing such notice is to initiate a series of special procedures required in capital punishment cases.

“Once a Notice of Intent to Seek Sentence of Death has been filed in a case, special procedures are initiated in the court case,” District Attorney Clark reportedly said. “Among those is the appointment of a death penalty qualified attorney for each defendant and the right to a second attorney.”

As previously reported by Law&Crime, a grand jury in 2020 indicted Finnegan and Dishman on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, abuse of a corpse, exploitation of a child, and tampering with evidence.

The couple allegedly lured Paxton to their home located in the 2100 block of East Fairview Road in Oak Ridge by offering her money and a place to stay in December 2019. But once she entered the residence, authorities say Finnegan and Dishman never let her leave, instead subjecting her to a tortuous and gruesome death.

During a preliminary hearing in March, Oak Ridge Police Department Sergeant Marvell Moore reportedly said that the couple admitted to the atrocious murder following their arrest. Per WVLT, the couple allegedly admitted that after luring Paxton to the home, Finnegan beat her with a baseball bat, then the couple tortured, raped, and starved her for a period of three or four days. She was allegedly locked in a single room and forced to use a bucket instead of a bathroom. Finnegan and Dishman then allegedly strangled Paxton to death and mutilated her body, breaking her bones so they could fit her remains in a stand-up freezer.

Authorities allege that Finnegan eventually took Paxton’s mutilated body out of the freezer and hid it under his bed. Paxton’s body was not discovered until police executed a search warrant on the couple’s home in Aug. 6, 2020.

Clark reportedly told the court that the state is seeking the death penalty because of the “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel” manner in which Finnegan and Dishman allegedly killed Paxton, Knoxville ABC affiliate WATE-TV reported. He also contended that the slaying was perpetrated “for the purpose of avoiding or interfering with or preventing arrest or prosecution for Aggravated Kidnapping,” and said that the couple “knowingly mutilated the body of the victim after death.”

The trial for Finnegan and Dishman is currently scheduled to begin on March 4.

Since resuming capital punishment in 2018, the state of Tennessee has executed seven people, all of them men, according to the Department of Corrections. WVLT noted that Dishman may be the first woman executed by the state in more than 200 years. The only other woman on death row in the state is Christa Pike, who was sentenced to death at the age of 20 for the torture murder crime she committed when she was 18.

[image via Anderson County Sheriff’s Office]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.