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Crime News Murders

Boyfriend Pleads Guilty, Gets 33 Years For 2019 Murder Of Indigenous U.S. Veteran

Prosecutors say Jerry Jay struck Cecilia Finona in the head with the blunt end of an ax handle before driving her across several states as she lay dying. 

By Jax Miller

A New Mexico man will spend decades in prison for brutally murdering a woman whose body was found two years after her disappearance.

Jerry Jay, 61, pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges of first-degree kidnapping and second-degree murder in connection with the 2019 homicide of his girlfriend, Cecilia Finona, 59, according to a press release by New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez. As part of a plea deal, Jay was sentenced to a 33-year prison term.

“Jerry Jay is the complete opposite of what Cecilia was. Cecilia was a loving mother, generous neighbor, and a celebrated veteran, qualities that would be appreciated in any community,” Torrez stated. “Jerry Jay took a bright light from the world in 2019, and for that, he received the sentence that he deserves.”

RELATED: The Murdered And Missing Indigenous Women Crisis Explained

Mark Probasco, Deputy Director of Prosecutions for the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, described Jay as someone “who not only killed in cold blood but took every step within his power to get away with it.”

Finona, a 31-year U.S. Army veteran, was last seen at her Farmington home — about 150 miles northwest of Albuquerque — on May 30, 2019, according to police. Finona’s mother, who lived at the same residence, told authorities her daughter disappeared after getting into a fight with Jay.

Noting Jay was nowhere to be found, authorities said evidence at the residence “led Farmington detectives to be very concerned.” Such evidence included a trail of blood that stretched between the porch and driveway, which appeared to be covered with potting soil, an alleged attempt to cover up the crime.

Cecelia Barber Finona Fb

Blood smears were also found on the side panel of the house, as was a pool of blood underneath the front steps, Finona’s brother, Steven Barber, told ABC Albuquerque affiliate KOAT-TV.

“I wasn’t thinking anything horrible yet,” Barber told the outlet on Thursday. “I thought maybe they just got in a fight, you know? Those people that slap each other? Maybe it’s one of those [situations].”

Though Finona remained missing, Jay was arrested days later in Sparks, Nevada — about 900 miles west of Farmington — and charged with stealing Fiona’s debit card. Relatives told Dateline NBC he was caught using her card at an ATM, crimes to which he pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors said it was while he was in a Nevada jail that Jay allegedly “disclosed to his jail mate” that not only had he killed Finona but also previously killed another girlfriend, admitting he “learned how to do it better this time,” according to Torrez.

Ultimately, in February 2021, a private citizen came upon Finona’s remains “in a remote desert culvert just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada,” according to Torrez. She was positively identified in June of that year, prompting murder charges against Jay.

Prosecutors say Jay struck Finona in the back of the head with the blunt end of an ax handle on May 31, 2019, according to the attorney general’s office. He then placed Finona — who was still alive — in the back of her own truck and fled the state, according to Probasco.

“What Jerry Jay did, above and beyond trying to cover the blood tracks that were in the driveway of Cecilia’s home, was he took her still-living body through the state of New Mexico, through Arizona, through California, until eventually he actually backtracked to Las Vegas, Nevada — just outside it — and disposed of her body inside a culvert, where she would not be found for an additional two years," Probasco said.

A police handout of Jerry Jay

Jay used the victim’s debit card to buy new truck tires and gas “before dumping her body,” according to Torrez.

The case against Jay was a first for New Mexico under the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Person Bill, which was passed in 2022 and established a Missing Persons Specialist position in the Office of the Attorney General with the aim of preventing further disappearances.

Finona was a member of the Navajo Nation.

“This case is important because recently, just within the last year, the Attorney General’s Office has been able to address issues of missing and murdered indigenous people, and this was the first case where we were able to help bring resolution to a family affected by violent crime,” Probasco stated.

The victim’s brother now lives in the home where Finona lived, according to KOAT-TV.

“Sometimes I talk to her. I go through the door and say, ‘Good morning, sister. How are you doing?’” said Barber. “I think she’s still here. That’s what I think. It gives me comfort, [especially] knowing that she’s not out there anymore.”

Attorney General Torrez thanked prosecutors in San Juan County for their dedication to Finona’s case.

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