Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Kid's Case Really about Pat Garrett

SANTA FE The ironic twist to the Billy the Kid case is that it’s not really about Billy. It’s all about Sheriff Pat Garrett. According to the three sheriffs, their quest to dig up Billy and his mother began as an effort to prove that Garrett shot Billy and, therefore, Brushy Bill, et. al. were fakes and Garrett was a true hero.
The trouble is that nearly everyone already knew that. Practically the entire town of Fort Sumner filed past Billy’s body on the carpenter’s workbench that night and the next day. Billy was well-known in the community, so it would quickly have become evident if the body had been someone else’s.
So it became necessary to convince the public that over a century of investigative work by respected historians may have been wrong. And that made Garrett the criminal in the official criminal investigation brought by the sheriffs.
So suddenly our hero became the suspect in a conspiracy with his supposed friend Billy to kill an innocent man to substitute for the Kid. And Garrett is also implicated in helping Billy escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse two months earlier by supplying a gun he used while killing Garrett’s two deputies.
Billy was pulled into the case because he is an international celebrity, whose name immediately causes the media to take notice. Digging up graves is also a real attention grabber. And so is DNA, the new scientific tool that solves everything.
That doesn’t include 123-year-old murder cases, but who’s to know the difference? Unfortunately for the sheriffs and governor, the state Office of the Medical Investigator knew the difference and that’s why the case had to go to court.
The most credible living source on Pat Garrett is Leon Metz, Garrett’s famous biographer. Metz says, “There is no question in my mind that Garrett shot and killed Billy the Kid. A claim to the contrary is preposterous. Besides the irrefutable evidence of identification of the body, Garrett was a very proud man, who could not have lived with that lie.”
And as to the friendship motive for murder claimed in the Billy the Kid Case, Metz says, “I can say there exists no trace of evidence that they were friends. At best they may have been acquainted in 1878 when both lived in Fort Sumner.”
Among the many holes in this Swiss cheese case is the question of motive. Facts show that prior to nailing the Kid on July 14, 1881, Pat had two other chances. On December 19, 1880 he and his posse ambushed Billy and pals in Fort Sumner and killed Tom O’Folliard. Three days later at Stinking Springs he killed Charlie Bowdre thinking he was Billy because he walked out of the rock house wearing Billy’s distinctive sombrero. That’s not how friends treat friends.
Though the three sheriffs and one governor are willing to dig up graves to find DNA in their “search for the truth,” there is plenty of Garrett DNA still walking around.
In an affidavit attached to their “criminal investigation” a man swears that Garrett’s widow told him in 1940 when he was a boy that Garrett had not killed the Kid. Unfortunately she died in 1936. So the question is why didn’t they question a real live Garrett? The answer may be their unique investigative style of avoiding anything that disagrees with what they want to find.
Since Gov. Richardson was considerate enough to provide a lawyer to speak for dead Billy, maybe we should put the word out that Pat needs one too, so he can sue the sheriffs and governor for defamation of his character.
So a case that began as an amorphous effort to clear the good name of the patron saint of Lincoln County sheriffs, reveal the hoaxters trying to be Billy, increase tourism and get a few people their 15 minutes of fame, has now become a hoax itself.


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