Inside the Capitol

Monday, November 21, 2005

11-18 column

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Here's a quick look at the past year's strange events in the afterlife of New Mexico's most famous personality -- Billy the Kid.
Following the September 2004 victory by the Village of Fort Sumner that secured a dismissal of the suit to dig up Billy, the action quieted for awhile.
November elections were in the offing and the Lincoln County sheriff's office was due for a change. Sheriff Tom Sullivan couldn't run again, so a new sheriff would take over. And Deputy Steve Sederwall, who also is mayor of Capitan, tried running for the county commission, but lost.
Sheriff Gary Graves, in DeBaca County, the third sheriff investigating the Kid's demise was safely in the middle of a four-year term, but a year later, he was recalled by voters in the most bizarre election in New Mexico history.
Not only was it the first time a sheriff had been recalled, it was the first time an election was scheduled, stopped and then restarted.. Graves' Texas attorney, Bill Robins, protested the election to the state Court of Appeals and got it stopped.
But on advice of the district attorney, the election was held as scheduled and though Robins sought an 11th-hour contempt charge against the county clerk and an injunction to interrupt the voting, the Appeals Court did not issue either. Graves was recalled by a vote of 576 to 150.
It also was discovered that Graves' attorney, Bill Robins, is not licensed to practice in New Mexico. That raises the question of whether he followed the correct procedures to represent Graves in this case.
Robins also represented the three sheriffs in the Fort Sumner grave-digging case and was the one who spoke for dead Billy, requesting that he and his mother be exhumed.
No matter what happens, the court appeals are sure to persist and the Billy the Kid case will continue to get more outlandish.
Meanwhile new Lincoln County Sheriff Rick Virden has deputized both Sullivan and Sederwall who are back on the case. Last May, they obtained permission from the state of Arizona to dig up the remains of Billy the Kid pretender John Miller, from the state-owned Arizona Pioneer Home Cemetery.
That exhumation remained a secret until last month, when an article by Julie Carter in the Ruidoso News revealed the dig had taken place on May 21 and disclosed that Miller had buck teeth and a bullet wound similar to the person Pat Garrett shot. The article featured a picture of Sederwall holding the skull -- minus the buck teeth.
The reason for delay in the release of the information remains a mystery. Miller's bones are at a lab in Texas awaiting DNA comparisons with blood from a carpenter's bench on which Billy's body may have been placed.
Meanwhile rumors circulate that more of Miller's bones were removed from his grave than are necessary for an autopsy. Anyone interested in learning more of the John Miller story can read "Whatever Happened to Billy the Kid," distributed by Sunstone Press, in Santa Fe.
Somewhat forgotten in all the strange twists of this story is that the three sheriffs agreed to submit a report to Gov. Bill Richardson following their investigation. That report is to include a recommendation as to whether he should issue a pardon to Billy.
Gov. Lew Wallace had promised Billy a pardon in return for his testimony in a murder case during the Lincoln County War. Billy upheld his end but Wallace didn't and would never answer Billy's letters from jail.
Why didn't Wallace answer? Why didn't he uphold his end of the bargain? Many theories have been advanced over the years.
Most likely is that the political corruption that extended through the judicial and law enforcement arms of government were too much for an appointed territorial governor from the outside to overcome.
Also worth a look is the question of what good or harm a pardon might do at this point.
FRI, 11-18-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)

Scott Stinnett in Fort Sumner just called with some changes to make paragraphs 5 and 6 more accurate. Sorry for the confusion. As I said in the column, this was the most bizarre election in New Mexico history. My reports from Fort Sumner residents and the Albuquerque Journal were sufficiently unclear to cause me some confusion.


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