NEW PORT RICHEY — A Holiday man who fatally strangled his former landlady and set fire to her house was sentenced to 35 years in prison Tuesday.
Charles Edward Dear pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree arson in the death of 46-year-old Theresa Jones, whose body was found in a shallow grave behind her Holiday home on June 17, 2008. Dear also pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated stalking, attempted burglary and two counts of burglary.
Authorities say Dear, 49, strangled Jones with a wire, buried her in her back yard and set her house on fire. Authorities said Dear had briefly rented a room from Jones at the 4635 Darlington Road home. He confessed to the crimes, authorities said.
But he was found mentally incompetent and spent three years in a mental hospital before being found fit to stand trial.
Plea negotiations began earlier this year. Assistant State Attorney Chris LaBruzzo said that Jones' family agreed to the deal, which went before Circuit Judge William Webb on Tuesday.
Dear said "I'm sorry" during the hearing but nothing else, LaBruzzo said.
"He did answer the judge's questions," he said.
Jones' sister, Cheryl Gile and her mother attended the plea hearing, LaBruzzo said.
Dear's former mother-in-law, Sandy Carl, told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this year that Dear, a construction worker, suffered from bipolar disorder but was fine for years. Then his medication stopped working, and he became violent.
He was convicted of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and served more than two years in prison. Carl said Dear once tried to attack his mother with a knife.
Carl's daughter feared for her safety and that of the children. She filed for divorce.
Dear was released from prison in June 2007. Jones was murdered the following year, and Dear was arrested and charged with the crime in 2009. Authorities said the house likely was burned to hide evidence.