Crime - Sacto 911

Suspect in high-seas homicides hospitalized, putting case on hold

A drawing of Silas Duane Boston, 75, appearing in federal court in Sacramento on Dec. 8, 2016.
A drawing of Silas Duane Boston, 75, appearing in federal court in Sacramento on Dec. 8, 2016. Vicki Behringer

Former Sacramento resident Silas Duane Boston, charged in the 1978 murder of two British tourists and suspected in the 1968 disappearance of his wife, has been hospitalized due to apparent complications from heart and liver disease, defense attorneys revealed in federal court Tuesday.

Boston’s medical issues came to light as federal prosecutors were asking a United States district judge to authorize in-court depositions for aging relatives of the two tourists, medical school graduate Christopher Farmer and his girlfriend, Peta Frampton.

One of Boston’s two attorneys, federal public defender Lexi Negin, said she was informed by Sacramento County jail officials that Boston has been hospitalized for nearly two weeks for “a very serious condition,” adding: “We are unsure if he is talking or conscious.”

Negin, who said jail authorities wouldn’t reveal where Boston is hospitalized, said she was informed that he was suffering from “complications of liver failure and congestive heart-failure.” Indicating that Boston’s condition may not be life-threatening, she added: “They said he could be back in jail in a few weeks.”

Federal prosecutors, hoping to speed up Boston’s trial, had asked Judge John A. Mendez to approve depositions for relatives of Farmer, including his 92-year-old mother, Audrey Farmer. In a recent letter to Mendez, she asked the judge to allow her to come to Sacramento to testify at the earliest convenience due to her advanced age. “There may be little time for justice to be seen,” she wrote.

But because Boston wasn’t in court Tuesday, Mendez said he was unwilling to rule on the prosecution’s motions to grant permission for pretrial depositions and to allow them to be held in open court.

“We’re not going to rule today,” Mendez said.

Federal prosecutors say Boston killed the couple on an excursion boat he was operating in Belize and threw their bodies – hog-tied and weighed down with boat parts – into the ocean off of the coast of Guatemala.

Boston, 75, was arrested Dec. 1 in the rural town of Paradise and later indicted on two counts of first-degree murder. The indictment for the 1978 killings grew out of an ongoing Sacramento police investigation into the 1968 disappearance of Boston’s wife, Mary Lou Boston, whom authorities say they believed was murdered. Her body has never been found.

Negin said defense attorneys last saw Boston in jail on Jan. 27 and that he was hospitalized some days after that.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew D. Segal asked Mendez on Tuesday to approve the prosecution’s request to schedule depositions with relatives of the slain tourists so their testimony can be put on the record as soon as possible – even though a trial date hasn’t been set.

In a written motion, Segal asked that the depositions be taken in open court, arguing: “There is no better evidence than sworn, cross-examined testimony taken under court supervision. Given the witnesses’ current ability and willingness to travel, there is no practical reason why their depositions cannot be taken under the conditions that the law most favors.”

Boston’s defense attorneys have argued that any pretrial depositions should be conducted in private and not introduced into the record until the trial begins.

Mendez scheduled a hearing for Feb. 28 to get an update on Boston’s medical condition and consider an anticipated motion by prosecutors to allow the depositions even if Boston cannot be present in court.

“I understand your concern for the witnesses and the mother of the victim,” Mendez told prosecutors. “I understand what is going on here. Both sides have serious needs.”

Related stories from Sacramento Bee