A judge ordered a 66-year-old man Feb. 24 to stand trial for murder of a gay man in 1983 in yet another cold case homicide that prosecutors say was solved by DNA evidence.
After hearing testimony for three days concerning the death of William Mambro, El Cajon Superior Court Judge John Thompson said there was “sufficient evidence” in the preliminary hearing to hold James Mitchell Boget for murder.
Witnesses testified they saw Mambro, 43, leave an El Cajon bar with Boget on Dec. 24, 1983, and they never saw him alive again. Boget was 28 years old at the time.
One witness told Thompson she was surprised to see Boget return to the same bar many hours later wearing a blue shirt as he wore a white shirt earlier. She said she noticed the shirt change because Boget had stored his clothing and belongings at her residence as he was homeless but didn’t have a key to her apartment.
Mambro died from “probable strangulation” along with two knife wounds to his chest and abdomen which injured his liver, said Dr. Steven Campman, who read from the 1983 autopsy report prepared by a pathologist who is now deceased.
Mambro’s nude body was found on his bedroom floor and covered up with all his bedding on top. He also had a penis abrasion and defensive wounds to his hands that suggested he tried to fight back, said Campman.
The testimony of Mambro’s sister, Marie Tipple, who is now 87 years old, was videotaped because of her age. She said she went through a window at her brother’s apartment in the 9300 block of Loren Drive in La Mesa because he didn’t answer the phone and his door was locked.
She found her brother’s body underneath the bedding on Dec. 28, 1983. She said she was aware her brother was gay and was glad his accused killer was caught, said Deputy District Attorney Brian Erickson.
La Mesa detective Ryan Gremillion testified Mambro’s sister noticed her brother’s clothing was pulled from his closet and piled onto the bed before she found his body on the floor in his ransacked apartment.
Mambro collected buffalo head nickels and two such coins from 1936 and 1937 were found in Boget’s possession when he was arrested on weapons charges several days after the murder, said Gremillion. Also, in Boget’s possession was an Asian coin which Mambro also collected and they were photographed at the jail.
It was Gremillion who reviewed the cold case and asked for re-testing of cigarette butts and other items for DNA that was found at Mambro’s residence.
A criminalist who is a DNA expert, Byron Sonnenberg, testified two Marlboro cigarette butts found at the scene matched the DNA profile of Boget, who also smoked Marlboro at the time.
“Can DNA survive for 38 years?” asked Erickson.
“Yes, if stored correctly. That DNA can last for a long time,” said Sonnenberg.
Sonnenberg said cigarette butts are a good object to hold DNA because the cigarette is “in contact with the mouth which is good for saliva.” He said cigarette butts “manage to dry out quickly.” They were frozen and preserved along with other evidence.
Sonnenberg said he tested a broken ashtray that split into six pieces, but there was no recoverable DNA on it. Mambro had head lacerations from being struck with an apparent object.
Boget’s DNA was taken again in San Antonio, Texas when he was detained Nov. 17, 2019, and it matched the DNA on the cigarette butts, said Sonnenberg. His profile was in the system due to another crime.
Gremillion testified witnesses at the bar said Mambro touched Boget, which agitated him. He described Boget “as the last person known to be alive with Mr. Mambro.”
Gremillion said he showed a picture of Mambro to Boget in Texas, but Boget said he “did not know him, never met him.” The detective showed a picture of the crime scene to Boget, but Boget said he “had never been there.”
A retired La Mesa police officer, Arthur Haber, testified he was concerned the case would go unsolved. “We were not collecting DNA in 1983,” said Haber.
Boget’s attorney, Madeleine Garber, asked Thompson unsuccessfully to dismiss the case at the end of the hearing. Boget has pleaded not guilty.
A trial date will be selected on March 17. Boget remains in the George Bailey Detention Facility on $2 million bail.