Ramona man pleads not guilty in murder of elderly neighbor - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Ramona man pleads not guilty in murder of elderly neighbor

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EL CAJON (CNS) - A Ramona man accused in the beating death of his 94-year-old neighbor pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges Friday.

Gary Allen Thomas, 63, was ordered held on $3.5 million bail.

Deputy District Attorney David Williams III said the victim -- Mary Jean Eskridge -- believed Thomas was a trusted friend and allowed him to spend the night in her guest bedroom the night of April 30.

The next morning, Thomas grabbed a hammer out of a toolbox and beat Eskridge to death as she slept.

A preliminary hearing is set for May 17 at the courthouse in El Cajon.

Thomas was arrested Wednesday afternoon at the Ramona Terrace Estates in the 1200 block of H Street, according to San Diego County sheriff's Lt. Larry Nesbit. Thomas lives in the mobile home community, the lieutenant said.

Eskridge, who was still active in church and senior center activities, was found in a bedroom of her mobile home about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday by paramedics responding to an activated medical alert bracelet.

Her body bore "obvious signs of trauma," prompting medics to call deputies, Nesbit said.

Authorities declined to disclose a possible motive for the slaying or the nature of the relationship between Thomas and Eskridge.

Thomas was booked into San Diego Central Jail without bail on suspicion of murder.

Eskridge, a professional dancer in the big band era, was the longtime owner of Jean's Dance Studio in Spring Valley. The studio is now run by her daughter. The victim also had three sons.

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