Hearing today for Gary Thomas, 63, charged with murdering neighbor, 94

A preliminary hearing is scheduled today for a Ramona man accused in the beating death of his 94-year-old neighbor last spring.

Gary Allen Thomas, 63, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Mary Jean Eskridge. A motive for the slaying is not known.

A judge will determine whether enough evidence was presented at the preliminary hearing for Thomas to stand trial.

At Thomas’ arraignment in May, prosecutor David Williams III said the victim believed the defendant was a trusted friend and allowed him to spend the night in the guest bedroom of her mobile home the night of April 30.

The next morning, Thomas grabbed a hammer out of a toolbox in the victim’s kitchen, proceeded down the hall and beat Eskridge to death as she slept, the prosecutor alleged.

Eskridge was a long-standing resident of the Ramona Terrace Estates mobile home park and Thomas’ attorney said her client had lived there for about six years.

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. on May 1 by paramedics responding to an activated medical alert bracelet.

Thomas was arrested the next day.

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.

The defendant faces 26 years to life in prison if convicted.

   
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