Inside the Capitol

Monday, September 27, 2004

Billy's Pardon Has Nothing To Do With Billy's Bones

SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson says the reason he got himself involved in the Billy the Kid case is that he needs to decide whether to pardon Billy.
Among the governor and the three sheriffs, there is a list of reasons, almost as long as the list of Billy’s alleged victims, about why they are in this case.
It is an official criminal investigation, an effort to find out who Pat Garrett killed in Fort Sumner, an effort to clear his name, an effort to learn what happened in the Lincoln County Court House when two deputies were shot and Billy escaped, an effort to promote tourism, an effort to dig up Billy and his mom to find matching DNA, an effort to prove Brushy Bill and other pretenders are fakes and an effort to decide whether to pardon Billy.
So far, the case has focused on digging up Billy and his mother for their DNA. The quest hit high center when the state Office of the Medical Investigator said the search would be valueless. So the sheriffs and governor trotted off to court to find a judge who would overrule DNA experts on their subject of expertise. That has taken nine months and stretched the budgets of Silver City and Fort Sumner to the breaking point.
During that time, Gov. Richardson has insisted he wants the DNA even though it has nothing to do with pardoning Billy.
Here’s the story on Billy’s pardon. In 1879, Gov. Lew Wallace seems to have promised Billy a pardon for his Lincoln County War-related murders. The victims were Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady, his deputy George Hindman, and bounty-hunting farmer Buckshot Roberts.
In exchange, Billy would testify to a grand jury about the murder of attorney Huston Chapman to which he was a witness. Billy testified but the governor didn’t hold up his end of the deal. Billy wrote many eloquent letters from prison pleading with the governor to live up to his word.
The pardon never came. The reason for Wallace’s inaction is unclear, but it has nothing to do with whom Garret shot three years later, and certainly nothing to do with anyone’s DNA.
When Gov. Richardson announced his support of the sheriffs’ case more than a year ago, there was no talk of grave-digging. The governor talked of a series of hearings in Billy the Kid historic sites around the state.
That possibility is still open. Experts in history and law could conduct debates or mock trials designed to reveal the various pressures and considerations weighing upon Gov. Wallace’s decision to do nothing. Those many pressures would provide a good overview for the public of the multi-faceted Lincoln County War.
But instead, Gov. Richardson has allowed himself to be drug along by the sheriffs in their misguided tangle of contradictions and trashistory. He has appointed a lawyer to channel Billy’s purported desire to be dug up along with his mother. The lawyer has been helping the sheriffs in their efforts even though those efforts have nothing to do with whether Billy should be granted a pardon or not.
It is downright inspiring that our governor would take time out of his schedule to help a spirit in need. Apparently his motive is increased tourism, but the controversy over whether Billy and his mother really are buried in Fort Sumner and Silver City hasn’t helped tourism in those communities, according to local businesses and a state Tourism Department report.
And if bodies are exhumed and no matching DNA is found, as the Office of the Medical Investigator predicts, the effect on those communities will be considerable, especially on Fort Sumner. And that is in addition to the money they already have had to spend to defend their municipal cemeteries on behalf of families with relatives in nearby plots.
So let’s get on with investigating a pardon and forget about court action. Billy’s pardon has nothing to do with Billy’s bones.


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