Inside the Capitol

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Billy and Golaith

SANTA FE Add up three sheriffs, one governor, and a $50 million a year law firm and you get power with a big “P.” Or a giant with a big “G,” as in Goliath.
Add up in opposition, the little village of Fort Sumner plus the little town of Silver City and you have courage with a big “C” or determination with a big “D,” as in David. And it all spells out the Billy the Kid Case.
For the past year, these two economically depressed communities have stood up to the relentless onslaught of frivolous litigation to get at the bones of Billy and his mother. Their saga is a tale of challenged citizens uniting in a common cause.
Forced to use the limited time resources of their elected officials and overburdened courts, they also had to live with the risk of economic retaliation. Some reported threats that “You can’t stop us. We’re backed by the governor and the biggest lawyers.”
Since we are about to have a big showdown on September 27 when the Billy the Kid Case will be heard in district court in Fort Sumner, let’s take a closer look at the protagonists.
The Village of Fort Sumner with 1200 residents, a budget of about $650,000.00, and a per capita income of about $13,000, relies on tourists for approximately half its revenues. That means visitors from over the country and world coming to the Billy the Kid grave. More profoundly, many of the residents are natives. The Billy the Kid heritage is part of their identity, like their own family histories.
To give you a feel, one bright twelve year old said she would chain herself to the grave if they tried to get at it, so they would be charged with child abuse! Mayor Raymond Lopez is not only standing for his town, but was selling cupcakes to raise money for its Billy the Kid Legal Defense Fund.
The town of Silver City, with 10,000 residents, a budget of about $7 million and a per capita income of about $18,500 has had an even more grim experience. From October 2003 to January of this year they have had litigation involving two petitions to exhume Billy’s mother -- one of them brought by the governor.
Though Silver City and Grant County had supported Bill Richardson by landslide numbers in the 2002 election, he never consulted with them and never bothered to respond to their petition to back off, signed by the mayor, town councilors, head of the Chamber of Commerce and director of their museum.
One of the town councilors said, “Because of our attempt to protect the sanctity of our graves and our economic base, we have suffered Richardson’s wrath.”
Richardson’s line-item veto of a legislative appropriation cut $250,000, which appears chillingly vindictive in that it was for the expansion of Memory Lane Cemetery, where Billy’s mother is buried. Only 60 plots remain. And as a touching note, there are always flowers left by tourists on her grave.
On December 1, 2003, Gov. Richardson stated on KOB TV that he wanted DNA from Billy and his mother, even though his own Office of the Medical Investigator had already refused exhumation, saying it was valueless.
Was it coincidence that he decided to weigh in just seven days before the Silver City court was to hear the case for digging up Billy’s mother? And was it coincidence that the judge kicked that political football to Fort Sumner for it to worry about?
Gov. Richardson has tried to steamroll Grant and De Baca county district courts, has backed the three sheriffs in a case which seems to be using taxpayer money for personal gain, has refused to stop despite the pleas of elected officials, and has punished the communities for defending themselves.
Richardson talks about pardoning Billy. Maybe Billy should pardon him. Everyone knows the outcome of the first David and Goliath and many are hoping history will repeat itself.
And in modern times we don’t use slingshots. We vote.


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