Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Billy's Big Day

SANTA FE – If you are Billy the Kid, you can have big days when you’re alive and when you’re dead. That’s the advantage of being famous.
And coming up September 27 is the biggest day in Billy’s history other than his hanging trial with Judge Bristol in Mesilla on April 9, 1881, his great escape from the old Lincoln County Courthouse on April 28 of that same year, and his being shot to death by Garrett a few months later on July 14.
September 27 is when the De Baca County District Court in Fort Sumner will decide if Billy’s bones will be allowed to lie at rest, and if it is the three sheriffs’ Billy the Kid case that will be buried instead. That is why I have Billy on the brain this month.
Over the past year we have seen the mayors and county commissioners of Silver City and Fort Sumner united in opposition to the attempts to get at the bones of Billy’s mother and Billy himself in their respective cemeteries. We have had the Office of the Medical Investigator refuse exhumation permits.
We have heard Frederick Nolan, the preeminent historian of the subject and Dr. Edward Blake, arguably the country’s most prominent forensic expert in DNA analysis, calling it a hoax. But we have not seen any sign of its perpetrators backing down.
Dr. Gale Cooper, a Harvard trained M.D. psychiatrist and an amateur historian, whom I quoted before on the reason the Billy the Kid legend has such a powerful hold on its fans, said, “I have followed the case closely. And it appears to me that these citizens and experts are not only responding to the specifics of the case, but are reacting to the brazen use of police and executive power to manufacture misinformation for personal gain.”
Cooper continued, saying, “There seems to be an attempt to profit from the reflected glory of a famous and cherished piece of history of the American West. What the promulgators may not have realized is that moral outrage is a more powerful motivator than greed in causing people to take a stand.”
Historians and scientists have already taken their stand on the Lincoln County Hoax. Now it will have its day in court. The tone of the three sheriffs’ and one governor’s case was already set in March when Texas lawyer, Bill Robins, brought in by Gov. Richardson, using only dead Billy as a client, petitioned the court to remove the respected local Judge Ricky Purcell. And he was removed.
Attorney Adam Baker of Kennedy & Han in Albuquerque and Attorney Herb Marsh of El Paso will be arguing for dismissal of the case. And Fort Sumner Mayor Raymond Lopez will be standing for his village. They will be arguing that the case be thrown out for many reasons.
It is not a criminal investigation since there is no criminal (Pat Garrett is dead) and no investigation; the case was closed in 1881 and to reopen it is double jeopardy. Since it is not real, the three sheriffs have no right to be in court as officers of the law. And they have no other reason.
It has no historical merit because evidence supports beyond a reasonable doubt that Garrett killed the Kid. And the case can never establish the contrary, since the precise location of the remains of Billy and his mother are uncertain, so DNA is useless for comparison. Lastly their client dead Billy does not exist.
The Lincoln County Hoax is about to have its day in court on September 27, 2004. Most, except for the three sheriffs, one governor, their legal eagles, and those hoping to profit from their caper, hope it will be its last.
So if you want to be a part of New Mexico history in the making, the place to be is Fort Sumner on September 27th. I’ll be there myself.
Jay Miller can be reached at


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