OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) – The case against two suspects in a gruesome Anderson County murder now heads to a grand jury.
Sean Finnegan and Rebecca Dishman appeared in an Oak Ridge courtroom Friday, both face many charges, including murder, kidnapping, and abuse of a corpse. The story began months earlier, when investigators responded to a reported homicide on East Fairview Road on Aug. 5, 2020.
Prosecutors say the victim, Jennifer Paxton, was brought to an apartment in late December 2019, where Finnegan and Dishman held her against her will, raped, and murdered her. Paxton’s body was placed in a freezer, where she remained for months.
During a preliminary court hearing Friday, Oak Ridge Police Department Sgt. Marvell Moore shared details from the interviews he conducted with the two suspects.
In Dishman’s account, Finnegan brought Paxton home from work one morning and claimed she would be staying awhile because she was homeless.
Dishman told investigators that she went upstairs, heard a loud scream, and ran back down and watched as Finnegan repeatedly hit Paxton over the head with a baseball bat. Dishman told investigators that she cleaned up blood at Finnegan’s direction, the officer testified. Dishman also claimed Finnegan repeatedly raped Paxton, and later confessed that she took part in some of them.
Dishman told investigators that Paxton had been held against her will for three or four days, and that when Finnegan noticed Paxton’s health declining, he said they’d have to “kill her soon.”
Sgt. Moore testified that Dishman said Finnegan killed Paxton by strangling her with a shoestring. Dishman also told investigators that Finnegan removed parts of the body, including a nose, after it was frozen.
Paxton’s death certificate lists her cause of death as a homicide, specifically due to ligature strangulation.
Investigators learned about the murder in August 2020, after Dishman told a friend what happened as she was being taken to a shelter in Campbell County. The two went to investigators in Campbell County, but were directed to Anderson County, where the murder occurred.
Sgt. Moore said he interviewed Dishman for a couple hours, then secured a search warrant to go to the apartment. He went upstairs to check the freezer for a body but it wasn’t inside. He testified that he noticed a cover sticking out from under the bed and there he found a body later identified as Paxton.
Sgt. Moore said he then interviewed Finnegan.
Sgt. Moore testified that Finnegan said he bought the freezer after the murder, on Dec. 27. Finnegan told investigators that he brought Paxton home from work and that he, Paxton and Dishman engaged in a threesome. Finnegan told Sgt. Moore that he went upstairs to take a shower and that he saw Dishman hit Paxton over the head when he came back downstairs.
Sgt. Moore said that Finnegan admitted to taking Paxton upstairs and chaining her to their bed. When Sgt. Moore asked about the decision to conceal the body, Finnegan replied he panicked and was trying to help Dishman. Finnegan also told investigators he tried to nurse Paxton back to health and offered medicine as he worked to convince Paxton not to say anything if he let her go.
Under cross-examination, Sgt. Moore testified that Dishman claimed to be punished by Finnegan when she didn’t do what she was told, either by being cut or chained up.
“Ms. Dishman had responsibility of going out and walking the dogs. We think that would mitigate any instance of gear, given the fact that she had not only several days of opportunity to tell someone, anyone, that there was a woman held against her will and had been attacked in the apartment, and then after her death she had nine months of opportunity to tell somebody… she had friends to help her leave nine months later. Then and only then, when she’s concerned for herself, does she indicate what had happened to Jennifer Paxton,” said Brian Gilliam, assistant district attorney general.
The death penalty is a possibility in this case.