UPDATE: MONDAY, APRIL 15—On the day jury selection was to start in his trial, Gary Allen Thomas pled guilty to first degree murder, Sentinel court reporter Neal Putnam said.
Sentencing will be in late June, and the judge said Thomas would be sentenced to 26 years to life in prison.
Thomas is charged with murdering Mary Jean Eskridge, 94, last April.
Monday, April 15—Jury selection was scheduled to get under way today in the trial of 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.
Gary Allen Thomas, 64, is charged with murder in connection with the death of Mary Jean Eskridge last April. He faces 26 years to life in prison if convicted.
Thomas initially pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but withdrew his plea Friday and entered a new plea of not guilty.
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, 2012.
The next morning, Thomas grabbed a hammer out of a toolbox in the victim’s kitchen, proceeded down the hall and, for reasons unknown, beat Eskridge to death as she slept, the prosecutor alleged.
Eskridge was a resident of the Ramona Terrace Estates mobile home park, and Thomas’ attorney said the defendant 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. 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 said.
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.