Gary Thomas enters insanity plea in murder case

By Neal Putnam

The Ramona neighbor accused of killing 94-year-old Mary Jean Eskridge with a hammer as she slept entered an insanity plea in court on Sept. 20.

Gary Allen Thomas, 63, pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and also not guilty by reason of insanity in the brutal death of Eskridge on May 1 inside her mobile home at the Ramona Terrace Estates at 1212 H St.

El Cajon Superior Court Judge John Thompson set a trial date for Feb. 26. Thomas remains in the Vista Detention Facility on $3.5 million bail.

Deputy District Attorney David Williams III said a jury would first determine whether Thomas is guilty or not guilty of the murder. If they convict him, they would enter into the sanity phase of the trial to determine if he was insane at the time of the crime.

If a jury found Thomas to be insane, he could be committed to a state mental hospital for life. If found sane, he would be sentenced to prison, possibly for life.

Thomas’ attorney couldn’t be reached for comment, and it isn’t yet known if Thomas had a history of mental illness. Not much is known about him other than he is a retired machinist, divorced, and has lived in Ramona for the past six years.

He made a bizarre confession to sheriff’s homicide detectives and about 10 minutes of the videotaped statement was played during his preliminary hearing on Aug. 24. Judge Lantz Lewis said he had heard enough evidence for trial, and halted it from being played further.

Thomas said he had an urge to kill someone “forever,” but had never acted upon it until now.

“I was watching her gurgle as she slowly died,” said Thomas on the videotape.

He admitted to hitting Eskridge more than once with a hammer and said there was “no reason” why he killed her other than “she was the easiest target.”

Thomas may have elaborated more on the videotape about this urge to kill, and his jury could hear most of the videotape at the trial. In the excerpt played in court, Thomas spoke without emotion, sometimes in a monotone.

   
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