Inside the Capitol

Friday, July 02, 2004

7-2 Billy

SANTA FE – New evidence arrives almost daily proving that the quest to dig up Billy and his mom is the most bizarre case in the history of jurisprudence.

It is amazing that it still is in the courts, but the Village of Fort Sumner has filed a motion to dismiss the case and sets out the issues in a manner that can’t be avoided.

The situation would actually be comical if it didn’t adversely affect two communities so strongly. Silver City and Fort Sumner face a loss of their part of the Billy the Kid legend if DNA analysis is unable to show a match between bones dug up in the two communities.

The state Office of the Medical Investigator says that is likely because of the lack of certainty about the exact location of the bodies and the low quality of DNA in corpses over 120 years old. Sentiment also runs high in both communities about the sanctity of their cemeteries and the impropriety of digging up bodies.

The scenario is playing out like an Old West melodrama with plenty of victims and villains (some of them dressed in 1880s sheriffs’ outfits). Currently, however, the plot outline is too garbled for a good melodrama. It is playing out more like the Keystone Cops at this point.

The three sheriffs involved in the case are running around, simultaneously conducting a criminal investigation of whom Pat Garrett shot and whether Billy had help escaping the Lincoln County Courthouse, while also trying to prove that Billy is buried in Fort Sumner and that his pretenders are fakes.

Add to that their efforts to help the governor decide whether to pardon Billy and also to help the governor promote tourism. Oh yes, and they’re collecting antique furniture and shooting it.

What do all these cross-purposes have to do with each other? I promised to seek that out, but I can’t tell you yet. I’m getting closer to discovering the thread that binds all this together, but still haven’t found the universal truth.

And speaking of truth, that has become the mantra of the two spokesmen for the grave digging, Gov. Bill Richardson and Capitan Mayor Steve Sederwall, who also is a sometimes deputy sheriff. I’ve discovered, however, that he is only a reserve deputy, a volunteer, so to speak.

Like Fox Mulder in X-Files, Richardson and Sederwall know “the truth is out there” but evil forces prevent it from being known. In this case, it is the towns of Silver City and Fort Sumner, and although they may not be evil, they are anti-scientific and anti-historical in their determination to not let scientific grave robbers into their cemeteries.

But maybe the truth isn’t “out there.” Maybe it is here among us. The petition filed by Fort Sumner to dismiss the court action seeking to exhume Billy lists many truths. Among them are:

* The New Mexico Supreme Court, in a previous decision, has expressed a strong predisposition against disinterment.

* The petitioners have no legal relationship to Billy.

* A dead person can’t seek relief.

* A governor can’t appoint a lawyer, even for someone who isn’t dead.

* A coroner’s jury already ruled in 1881on who shot Billy.

* Reopening the case would be double jeopardy.

* The statute of limitations for any criminal investigation expired long ago.

* The job of the sheriffs is to protect the public. There is no criminal on the loose.

Actually the truth may be much nearer than we think. Billy’s gubernatorially-appointed attorney has been speaking for him, making claims that Billy wants to be dug up and wants his mother dug up.

Since Billy is speaking from the grave, and since his attorney is communicating with him, the attorney has to know where Billy is buried. All he has to do is tell us and it’s all over.

Case closed.


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