SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — A Santa Rosa man pleaded not guilty Monday morning to the strangulation murder of his wife last week at a trailer in east Santa Rosa.

Dean Howard Eliason Jr., 65, is charged with first-degree murder and inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant. A date for a preliminary hearing might be set Aug. 22.

Eliason, 65, known as “Sonny,” called Santa Rosa police around 12:18 p.m. Wednesday and said he had just killed his wife, police Sgt. David Linscomb said.

Police found the body of Virginia Mary Caetano, 64, on the living room floor of the double-wide trailer at 67 Cardinal Way in Rincon Valley Mobile Estates. A radio cord was around her neck, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Diana Gomez.

After his plea this morning in Sonoma County Superior Court, Eliason’s sister Mary Eliason, 67, of Redding, said her brother and Caetano “had a strained relationship for a long time.”

Caetano had a substance abuse problem and once took 30 Soma pills, a prescription drug that relaxes muscles and blocks pain sensations between the nerves and the brain, then drove around in a vehicle, Mary Eliason said.

Her brother suffered from chronic depression, she said.

The couple were married for 38 years, but Sonny Eliason had filed for divorce and was temporarily living in the trailer, she said.

On July 22, two days before the alleged murder on Wednesday, Sonny Eliason called an ambulance to take Caetano to the hospital because he feared she had taken an overdose or suffered a stroke, Mary Eliason said.

“She was rocking from side to side and speaking incoherently. He didn’t know what it was,” she said.

Caetano was released from the hospital later that day, and a doctor said he didn’t know what caused Caetano’s behavior, Mary Eliason said.

Sonny Eliason was taking anti-depressant medication, and Caetano’s substance abuse problem had been going on for years, Mary Eliason said.

“He was mentally and physically tired,” she said.

Her brother was very calm when he spoke to her on Tuesday, she said. “He said, ‘I just don’t know what’s wrong with her.'”

After Caetano’s death, he told police “‘I think’ I killed my wife,'” according to his sister, but she said “I can’t imagine him being capable of that.”

“I honestly think she was not conscious or was in the throes of an overdose. She might have already been dead. It crossed my mind that she was dying and he put her out of her misery. I just don’t know,” Mary Eliason said.

“He’s probably the sweetest man on the planet. He’s my younger brother and we dearly love him,” she said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)


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