Prosecutors charged a Santa Rosa man with first-degree murder Friday for allegedly strangling his 64-year-old wife with a radio cord in their Rincon Valley mobile home.

Dean "Sonny" Eliason Jr., 65, also was charged with a count of felony spousal abuse in the Wednesday slaying of Virginia Caetano as well as an enhancement related to a prior domestic violence-related conviction in 2008.

The retired Sonoma County employee appeared before Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite, his hands shackled to a chain around his waist. The gray-bearded man acknowledged the complaint and was ordered to return to a different courtroom Monday morning for a possible plea.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Diana Gomez said the allegations imply premeditation and deliberation. She wouldn't discuss other details or say whether Caetano was the victim five years ago.

"Victims of spousal abuse usually are referred to as Jane Doe," she said outside court.

Eliason talked quietly to his his lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Kristine Burk, before he was led away by deputies. He was being held in the mental health unit of the Sonoma County jail, Burk said.

Burk said Eliason may be suffering from depression or other mental health issues.

Pension records show he retired in 2003 from his job as a building mechanic at the Sonoma County fairgrounds. He was a county employee for more than a dozen years.

"There is much work to do to understand what happened here," she said.

Because of a conflict, he will appear before Judge Dana Simonds on Monday.

Little was known about Caetano. A woman who attended Friday's court hearing said she worked with Caetano decades ago at Sonoma Developmental Center.

Kelly McClelland of Cotati said she and Caetano were psychiatric technicians. She lost touch with her over the years and was shocked to read in the newspaper that she had been killed. She said she didn't know anything about her relationship with Eliason.

"It kind of freaked me out when I read it in the paper," she said. "I saw her name and couldn't believe someone killed her."

Eliason was arrested Wednesday after police said he called 911 dispatchers to report he had strangled his wife.

Officers arrived to find her body in the living room floor of their home at Rincon Valley Mobile Estates. The radio cord, initially described by police only as a ligature, was around her neck.

Eliason told dispatchers he would be waiting for police at the front door. Officers arrived and ordered him to come outside before detaining him.

He was formally charged with murder with an enhancement for use of a weapon and a second count of felony spousal abuse resulting in death. The complaint also alleges the past misdemeanor spousal battery conviction.

It was unclear whether Eliason and Caetano were still married. Records show he filed for divorce in 2007. He was convicted of spousal battery in 2008 and ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and domestic violence classes, court records show.

(You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or