Inside the Capitol

Monday, August 30, 2004

Fooling Only Some of the People

SANTA FE -- It seems about time the three sheriffs, looking for Billy’s body, accept the fact that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.
So far, they have avoided reporting who is paying for their shenanigans with the Billy the Kid case by changing hats. They say it’s a real criminal investigation, so its records are shielded. But everyone knows taxpayer money pays for law enforcement. “No,” they say, private donors paid. They even imply the case is their history hobby. The catch is that hat changing does not work. It is a public case, they are public officials, and public and private money are subject to audit.
When it comes to the deputizing of Capitan Mayor Steve Sederwall by Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan, it is just as slippery. Mr. Sederwall calls himself Deputy Sheriff in the criminal investigation filed by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department in which Pat Garrett is the alleged murderer and an unknown cowboy, not the Kid, is his victim. And on every petition to the District Courts of De Baca and Grant counties to dig up Billy or his mother, Deputy Sederwall is a co-petitioner.
But when I checked on his status, I was told he is a “reserve” deputy and that no paperwork was done. “Reserve” deputy is not in New Mexico statutes; special deputy and regular deputy are. The first is only for serving writs or preserving the peace. The second requires a good deal of written documentation and a sworn oath of office. Obviously none of this has been done.
So it seems Sullivan and Sederwall have tried to pull a fast one. But there’s a catch. Sederwall may be a fake deputy, but having represented himself as a public official doing the Billy the Kid case, he is now subject to public scrutiny as to money spent.
Most recently the three sheriffs have wheeled out forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee, of O.J. Simpson defense notoriety, to find blood on the carpenter’s bench on which the dead Billy allegedly lay. Paid for by Kurtis Productions of the History Channel, Dr. Lee, according to newspaper accounts, did field tests and found blood on the bench.
The only problem is the chemical he sprayed, called Luminol, also gives positive reactions to bacteria, metals, and detergents. But he’s heading with his “scrapings” to a lab called Orchid Cellmark.
I checked with forensic experts around the country and learned blood has never been proven to exist over about 50 years. Dead Billy bled 123 years ago. And lab tests can falsely indicate blood if iron compounds like rust are present along with DNA, which could come from saliva or a sneeze on the bench a month ago.
Moving on from the smoke screen of a “CSI investigation,” if the carpenter’s bench is historically real - and the only accepted bench belongs to the Maxwell family - then three generations have preserved it. Can anyone seriously believe that a family would keep that old, dirty thing for three generations because an unknown cowboy and not Billy lay on it?
And if the dead Billy was on it, the sheriffs have disproved their own case. Of course, they want us to believe they can get DNA from it and head back after the bones of Billy or his mother. But the location of their remains cannot be substantiated. There’s nowhere to go to match DNA.
What the three sheriffs need is not DNA, but more suckers. One is supposed to be born every minute, so we wish them luck. But right now the Billy the Kid case looks like a criminal case where the victim isn’t an unknown cowboy, but the New Mexico taxpayers and anyone hoping that officers of the law work on real crimes committed by real criminals.


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