Inside the Capitol

Friday, October 01, 2004

Victory in Fort Sumner

SANTA FE Instead of a court hearing, Fort Sumner held a victory celebration on Sept. 27 to mark the dismissal of proceedings to exhume Billy the Kid.
Three days earlier, attorneys for the sheriffs agreed to dismissal of the case, with prejudice, meaning it can’t be refilled. Fort Sumner officials consider it a total victory, ending the effort to dig up Billy’s bones.
A big party was held at City Hall, complete with a banquet of cold cuts, fruit punch and chocolate chip cookies. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Beforehand, Mayor Raymond Lopez presented certificates of honorary citizenship in the Village of Fort Sumner to visiting dignitaries from as far away as England. The world’s preeminent authority on the Lincoln County War, Frederick Nolan, of Chalfont, St. Giles, England, made a special trip for the event.
Also present were Silver City Mayor Terry Fortenberry and Chamber of Commerce executive director Cissy McAndrew. Last January Fort Sumner officials attended Catherine Antrim’s exhumation hearing in Silver City. Since then, the two communities have provided mutual support to each other in a joint effort to protect their cemeteries and tourism produced by the Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett history and legend.
Following the banquet lunch, participants made the five-mile trip south to Billy’s gravesite, where Nolan placed a bouquet of flowers in front of the gravestone of Billy and his pals, Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre. Nolan declared the day a victory for truth.
Adam Baker, lead attorney for the Village of Fort Sumner, stated that he is not sure why attorneys for the sheriffs were willing to dismiss the case with prejudice. But there are some telltale signs that the battle may not be over.
The sheriffs are declining to comment about whether they plan to renew their attempt to retrieve DNA from the remains of Billy’s mother, whose grave is in Silver City.
But Gov. Bill Richardson has been more forthcoming. It is time the truth is known now that DNA technology is available, said Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks, following dismissal of the Fort Sumner court case. Richardson has consistently maintained that he wants “that DNA” even though his own Office of the Medical Investigator has filed legal papers saying DNA from Catherine Antrim is useless since the location of her remains is uncertain.
“I have a sinking feeling that we haven’t heard the last from these three sheriffs,” Baker says. He notes that Henry Lee, a forensic expert who is working with the sheriffs, has recovered some samples from a bench said to be stained with Billy the Kid’s blood.
Baker speculates that legal action in Silver City focusing on the Kid’s mother may be renewed soon. This should create some fireworks since forensic experts around the nation acknowledge Lee’s claims can never be substantiated.
Another reason the sheriffs may have backed off the dig for Billy’s bones was a spirited attack against the two sheriffs from Lincoln County by County Commissioner Leo Martinez three nights before the sheriffs threw in the towel on the Fort Sumner case.
At a commission meeting, Martinez demanded that Sheriff Tom Sullivan immediately cease his investigation of the 123 year old murders and concentrate on more recent murders that remain unsolved.
A lengthy and heated discussion ensued over how much public money was used for the investigation, the origin of the private money used, whether Capitan Mayor Steve Sederwall’s “reserve deputy” status qualified him to sign legal documents that are part of the investigation and whether the county is liable for their actions.
Next door in DeBaca County, Sheriff Gary Graves is having to defend himself against recall charges that include failing to maintain proper records relating to this case and others. Representing Graves against the recall is attorney Bill Robins, the lawyer Bill Richardson brought into the case a year ago to represent (and speak for) dead Billy.
More on this later.


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