Silas Duane Boston, out of a hospital after apparent complications from heart and liver disease, returned to federal court Tuesday as a judge approved pretrial depositions and set a tentative October date for Boston to face trial for the 1978 murders of two British tourists who were allegedly hog-tied and thrown from his boat into the Caribbean.
Boston, 75, a former Sacramento resident, also is being investigated in the 1968 disappearance of his former wife, Mary Lou Boston, who authorities believe was murdered and buried near a remote Northern California creek. Her body has never been found.
As that investigation continues, Boston, who turns 76 on March 20, appeared in court in a wheelchair as U.S. District Court Judge John A. Mendez agreed to schedule depositions in April or May for four aging witnesses in the Caribbean murder case. Authorities say they want their testimony on the record as soon as possible in case they don’t live long enough to take the witness stand in Boston’s trial.
One of those witnesses is Audrey Farmer, 92, of Oxfordshire, England, whose son, medical school graduate Christopher Farmer, was killed along with girlfriend Peta Frampton after taking an excursion on a boat Boston was operating in Belize. Their bodies, tied up and weighed down, were found off the coast of Guatemala.
Authorities also are due to call Farmer’s sister, Penelope Farmer, as well as a British law enforcement official and a forensic scientist from Guatemala who investigated the case.
In a Feb. 14 motion, United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert asked Mendez to hold the depositions “in a trial-like setting ... held in an open court, on the record and open to the public, thereby affording the public their proper access to the proceedings.”
Mendez approved the motion to schedule the depositions but rejected the prosecution’s request to hold them in open court. “I do not intend to have a judge or a magistrate sit (in a courtroom) and have them appear as witnesses for a trial,” he said.
The judge said the prosecution may interview the witnesses and record their testimony for potential introduction for trial with the defense allowed to cross-examine them. He said the depositions were to be conducted at a location to be determined by the lawyers. A federal magistrate would be available to answer procedural questions by phone but wouldn’t be physically present.
Mendez set a potential trial date for Oct. 2 but said he was uncertain the case would be ready to begin with jury selection by then. “I’m not setting a trial date yet,” he said. “It’s only tentative.”
Boston, equipped with headphones to help his hearing, said he was having trouble following the discussion.
“We’re you able to hear me, Mr. Boston?” Mendez asked.
Boston nodded to the judge, but indicated he couldn’t hear his attorney, federal public defender Lexi Negin.
“I couldn’t hear her,” he said, fumbling with his head gear. “Hello? Hello?”
Negin, who on Feb. 14 said Boston was hospitalized for nearly two weeks for “a very serious condition” involving heart and liver disease, indicated her client had improved. Mendez approved a defense motion to be allowed confidential access to interview Boston at Sacramento County jail.
“He is taking a lot of medication,” Nagin said. “Mr. Boston is good today. I don’t think there is any issue today. But it is an ongoing medical issue.”
Boston is due back in court for a case status conference on June 6.