Judge orders trial for man accused in beating death of 94-year-old neighbor

A Ramona man accused of beating his 94-year-old neighbor to death with a hammer after she let him spend the night in her mobile home must stand on a murder charge, a judge ruled Monday.

Gary Allen Thomas, 63, faces 26 years to life in state prison if convicted in the death of Mary Jean Eskridge.

El Cajon Superior Court Judge Lantz Lewis found that enough evidence was presented at this morning’s preliminary hearing for the defendant to proceed to 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. A motive for the slaying is unknown.

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. In an interview with police, the defendant admitted beating the victim with a hammer in her home, Williams alleged.

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.

Thomas will be back in court Sept. 20 for arraignment and to get a trial date.

—City News Service

   
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