Inside the Capitol

Friday, June 04, 2004

He May Be Dead But....

The three sheriffs are still intent on digging up Billy the Kid and his mother despite the fact that it makes no sense. They continue their criminal investigation to determine whether then-sheriff Pat Garrett shot Billy or someone else.
More than ample historical evidence exists, including the report of a coroner's jury, to prove that Garrett shot the Kid. Photographic evidence has determined that Billy's two main pretenders didn't look anything like him. Handwriting analysis very likely would demonstrate the same.
But the sheriffs want to use the magic of DNA to prove their case despite the fact that DNA testing loses its magic after 120 years, according to the state Office of the Medical Investigator. Further complicating the matter is the lack of certainty about exactly where the bodies are buried and the fact that local authorities do not want them disturbed.
The sheriffs also indicated that they felt their investigation would promote tourism in their counties. There was talk of hearings to be conducted throughout Billy the Kid country that would cast further light on the legend and attract national and international attention.
This column supported that notion for several months until it became evident that digging up bodies was the all-consuming intent of the venture. Instead of informal hearings to offer historical evidence, the sheriffs went to court in Silver City and Fort Sumner to force unwilling communities to let them dig.
Considering the overwhelming evidence against a DNA match, the possibility of solving a crime is very low and the likelihood that it will destroy a legend for the communities is high. State Tourism Department statistics show that although tourism in Southern New Mexico was up last year, tourism in Billy the Kid country was down.
In a column last month, we promised to look into why the sheriffs are so intent on digging and to check out their assurances that no taxpayer money is being spent on this adventure. Here's what we've found so far.
On May 13, I filed requests for financial and other information concerning the official activities of Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan; Capitan Mayor Steve Sederwall, who represents himself as a deputy sheriff of Lincoln County; and DeBaca County Sheriff Gary Graves in relation to the Billy the Kid case.
As of May 24, I have received no response from Mr. Sederwall, who is also running for county commissioner on June 1. And the responses I received with regard to Sullivan and Graves were inadequate and disturbing.
Attorney General Patricia Madrid states that "the public's access to government actions is a crucial aspect of a functioning democracy." The law requires public access to virtually all public records. Anytime any public entity enters into any formal or informal agreement, it takes on a responsibility to the public for a financial accounting of its acts and financial accounts.
These records must stand the light of day. This includes the responsibility to inform the public of any funding, public or private, in order to protect each taxpayer's right to judge potential conflicts of interest or other areas of concern.
New Mexico law imposes a record keeping responsibility for any public entity with regard to payroll, vouchers, expenditures, use of vehicles or services, and income so that undue influence or misuse of public or private funds in public endeavors can be judged. Obtaining any of these records for review and audit is the right of any citizen.
A major concern with this case is that it has been made a law enforcement matter in both Lincoln and DeBaca counties, since Sullivan, Sederwall and Graves are conducting it as a criminal investigation of a 122-year-old murder. According to Lincoln County Commissioner Leo Martinez, families of much more recent murder victims feel strongly that the sheriffs should be spending their time on those cases.
I want to be fair, but I'm concerned about the lack of response by Sederwall and the nature of the responses from Sullivan and Graves. I will give them another opportunity to make their records available to the public and hope they will do a better job of clarifying their involvement in this case.


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