Rocky Top woman pleads guilty to murder, sentenced to life

Christy Viola Comer, left, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Anderson County Criminal Court in Clinton on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, listens to testimony during a preliminary hearing in Anderson County General Sessions Court in Clinton on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. At right is defense attorney Leslie Hunt. (File photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

An Anderson County woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the death of J.C. Copeland, an 83-year-old Rocky Top man, and she was sentenced to life in prison plus an extra 20 years.

Christy Viola Comer, 41, entered the guilty plea in Anderson County Criminal Court in Clinton on Tuesday afternoon.

Christy Viola Comer, left, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Anderson County Criminal Court in Clinton on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, listens to testimony during a preliminary hearing in Anderson County General Sessions Court in Clinton on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. At right is defense attorney Leslie Hunt. (File photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

 

An Anderson County woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the death of J.C. Copeland, an 83-year-old Rocky Top man, and she was sentenced to life in prison plus an extra 20 years.

Christy Viola Comer, 41, entered the guilty plea in Anderson County Criminal Court in Clinton on Tuesday afternoon.

Comer had planned to rob Copeland, who was described as a “sweet old man,” because “it would be easy,” according to testimony during a preliminary hearing in Anderson County General Sessions Court in Clinton in January 2019.

Comer traded some of the property stolen from Copeland’s home, a digital video disc player, for a $10 bag of methamphetamine, according to court testimony by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent John Hannon.

Copeland’s body was found partially wrapped in a pink blanket underneath a porch at a mobile home on Jacksboro Avenue in Rocky Top on August 31, 2018, Hannon said. Copeland is believed to have been strangled until he died, according to court records. There was white rope around his neck and other parts of his body, including his wrists and ankles, Hannon testified during the preliminary hearing.

“In the overnight hours of August 30, 2018, Christy Comer made the decision to rob him (Copeland) to get money for methamphetamine,” Seventh Judicial District Attorney General Dave Clark said in a press release Tuesday.

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Secret City Academy student charged with terrorism after alleged shooting, bomb threats

A Secret City Academy student was charged with terrorism and other crimes after allegedly threatening to shoot people and use a bomb at the school on Friday, Anderson County’s district attorney general said. This is the fourth student charged with similar crimes in three incidents this school year.

Seventh Judicial District DA Dave Clark said the alleged oral threat by the juvenile briefly caused restrictions on movements within the school. The Secret City Academy is on the Oak Ridge High School campus.

“Nobody was hurt, and no firearm or explosive device was involved,” Clark said in a press release.

The alleged threats were investigated by the Oak Ridge Police Department, Oak Ridge Schools, Anderson County Juvenile Court, and the DA’s office.

[Read more…]

Former AC school employees charged with theft

Two former Anderson County Schools employees have been charged with stealing more than $10,000 in a two-year period between January 2018 and January 2020.

Heather Dawn Heatherly, 44, of Jacksboro, and Stephanie Leann Jenkins, 43, of Powell, were indicted by the Anderson County Grand Jury on a single felony count of theft or more than $10,000 but less than $60,000 on February 1.

“The investigation was initiated by a complaint from a merchant that was concerned about the types of purchases being made with a government account,” said Dave Clark, Seventh Judicial District attorney general in Anderson County. “The Anderson County Schools promptly reported the matter to the Sheriff’s Department and suspended the employees.”

The lengthy investigation that followed included the ACSO, Anderson County Schools, Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, and the District Attorney General’s Office.

[Read more…]

Woman charged with murder in husband’s death after 7 years

Samantha Hendley

The wife of Thomas Steven “T.S.” Thrasher has been charged with first-degree murder after his death in 2014, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Samantha Anne Hendley, 35, of Harriman, was indicted last week by the Anderson County Grand Jury, and she was arrested and booked into the Anderson County Detention Facility in Clinton on Monday morning, the TBI said. Her bond has been set at $1 million.

The indictment and arrest followed seven years of casework by TBI special agents, the agency said.

Thrasher, 29, was shot and killed inside his home at Rolling Hills Apartments on December 8, 2014.

[Read more…]

Bowling running for judge

Victoria Bowling (Submitted photo)

Local attorney Victoria Bowling will seek the Republican Party nomination for Anderson County General Sessions judge in Division I in the May 3 primary.

Bowling will run against the incumbent, Don Layton, who is seeking a fourth term as judge in this year’s election.

Bowling has a general law practice, focusing on family law, a press release said. She has practiced law for more than two decades in Anderson County, including serving four years with the Public Defender’s Office, the release said.

The press release said Bowling graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Tennessee in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in Honors Political Science. She then attended the University of Tennessee Law School, where she graduated in 1993. Bowling received the University of Tennessee Dean’s Citation (Dean’s Commendation for Extraordinary Contributions to the College of Law). While in law school, she served on the Board of the Tennessee Bar Association. Bowling also served as President of the Student Bar Association (University of Tennessee Law School), the press release said.

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Two face death penalty in murder, kidnapping, rape case

Sean Finnegan, one of two defendants in a series of gruesome alleged crimes in Oak Ridge in December 2019, including murder, sex crimes, and kidnapping, is pictured above in a mugshot from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

 

An Oak Ridge man and woman face the death penalty after allegedly kidnapping, raping, torturing, and murdering a 36-year-old woman, and mutilating her body and putting it into a freezer in December 2019.

Dave Clark, Seventh Judicial District attorney general, announced the death penalty decision on Monday.

Oak Ridge Today has previously reported that a decision was expected this month in the criminal case against Sean Shannon Finnegan, 54, and Rebecca Elizabeth Dishman, 23. They have both been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the strangling death of Jennifer Gail Paxton and 10 other charges, including aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, abuse of a corpse, and tampering with evidence.

In a press release, Clark said a district attorney general can seek the death penalty only in certain first-degree murder cases “when one or more factors established by state law are alleged to exist.” Then, it is up to the DA to decide whether to ask the court to impose the death penalty. That decision has now been made, Clark said.

Here are the factors in this case that make the death penalty applicable, according to Clark:

  • The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel “in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse beyond what was necessary to produce death.”
  • It was committed to avoid being arrested and prosecuted for aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape.
  • It was committed during an aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape.
  • Finnegan and Dishman mutilated Paxton’s body after she died.

Since the state is now seeking the death penalty, special procedures will apply in the court case. These include the appointment of an attorney qualified in death-penalty cases and the right to a second attorney for Finnegan and Dishman.

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Sean Finnegan, one of two defendants charged in a series of gruesome alleged crimes in Oak Ridge in December 2019, including murder, rape, and kidnapping, is pictured above in a mugshot from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

Note: This story was last updated at 6 p.m.

An Oak Ridge man and woman face the death penalty after allegedly kidnapping, raping, torturing, and murdering a 36-year-old woman, and mutilating her body and putting it into a freezer in December 2019.

Sean Finnegan, one of two defendants in a series of gruesome alleged crimes in Oak Ridge in December 2019, including murder, sex crimes, and kidnapping, is pictured above in a mugshot from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

 

An Oak Ridge man and woman face the death penalty after allegedly kidnapping, raping, torturing, and murdering a 36-year-old woman, and mutilating her body and putting it into a freezer in December 2019.

Dave Clark, Seventh Judicial District attorney general, announced the death penalty decision on Monday.

Oak Ridge Today has previously reported that a decision was expected this month in the criminal case against Sean Shannon Finnegan, 54, and Rebecca Elizabeth Dishman, 23. They have both been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the strangling death of Jennifer Gail Paxton and 10 other charges, including aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, abuse of a corpse, and tampering with evidence.

In a press release, Clark said a district attorney general can seek the death penalty only in certain first-degree murder cases “when one or more factors established by state law are alleged to exist.” Then, it is up to the DA to decide whether to ask the court to impose the death penalty. That decision has now been made, Clark said.

Here are the factors in this case that make the death penalty applicable, according to Clark:

  • The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel “in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse beyond what was necessary to produce death.”
  • It was committed to avoid being arrested and prosecuted for aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape.
  • It was committed during an aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape.
  • Finnegan and Dishman mutilated Paxton’s body after she died.

Since the state is now seeking the death penalty, special procedures will apply in the court case. These include the appointment of an attorney qualified in death-penalty cases and the right to a second attorney for Finnegan and Dishman.

The rest of this story is available if you are a member: a subscriber, advertiser, or contributor to Oak Ridge Today.

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P.O. Box 6064

Oak Ridge, TN 37831

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Layton seeks fourth term as judge

Don A. Layton (Submitted photo)

Anderson County General Sessions Court Judge Don A. Layton will seek election to a fourth term this year.

Layton is the judge in General Sessions Court Division I in Clinton. He has presided over that court since 1998. General sessions judges serve eight-year terms.

“General Sessions Court Division I hears and processes more cases than any other court in Anderson County,” a press release said. “The Court produces more revenue than any other court in Anderson County.”

The press release said Layton is recognized throughout the state as a leader and innovator, and he has been chosen president of the 200-plus members of General Sessions Judges Conference. Layton is a frequent instructor and lecturer at state and educational conferences, the press release said.

[Read more…]