Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

8-27 Who Bankrolled Investigation of Kid's Death?


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- One of the big mysteries of the four-year Billy the Kid investigation can now be revealed.

   We now know where the private money came from to finance the official criminal investigation into whether Sheriff Pat Garrett might have shot someone other than Billy and then covered it up.

   When two Lincoln County sheriffs filed the investigation, we thought it peculiar that private money would finance a criminal investigation. That means that anyone with money and a grudge could go looking for a law enforcement official willing to conduct an investigation.

   The situation screamed for some journalistic scrutiny. There has to be an unusual reason for someone to want to finance a criminal investigation. This was like criminal justice in Billy the Kid's day, when the notorious Santa Fe Ring controlled much of law enforcement and the judicial system in New Mexico.

   I contacted Attorney General Patricia Madrid but somehow was never able to get her interested. Recently the Ruidoso News revealed that Gov. Bill Richardson's press secretary delivered $6,500 of financial support from private backers for the investigation.

   Questions still remain about who provided the money that came through the governor and why. Folks down in Billy the Kid country are not without ideas about who and why.

   Governmental secrecy is the genesis of most wild conspiracy theories. One of those theories may be correct about who was financially backing the investigation. Or it could just be a Billy the Kid aficionado with money to burn.

   There is nothing illegal about private individuals contributing money to a government agency. But my understanding is that it needs to be publicly identified in the agency's income and expenditure reports, which was not done.

   Making the investigation official made the gathering of evidence much easier. Deputy Steve Sederwall says flashing a badge gains a lot more access than just expressing an historical interest.

   That won't be possible any longer. In June, Sederwall and Deputy Tom Sullivan, who was sheriff when this all began, submitted their resignations to current Lincoln County Sheriff Rick Virden.

   Their hope was that this would lead to an end of public information requests from people wanting to know what was going on. I was likely the most frequent requester in the early days until we got the digging for bodies in Silver City and Fort Sumner stopped.

   But others continued the effort, which, reportedly, was a hassle to the current sheriff, who had nothing to do with the investigation.

   The former sheriffs' investigation will continue but they won't be deputies. Now they are private investigators. But there is plenty they still can do with the knowledge and publicity they have gained.

   During the course of the investigation, their focus strayed to an investigation of how Billy killed Deputy Bell at the courthouse, which also served as the jailhouse.

   Actually, the deputies' interest seemed to be involved with the entire Billy the Kid legend. My guess is that they are intrigued with Billy's life; they'd like to bring some tourism to Lincoln County and if they can gain a little fame along the way, so much the better.

   And that they have done. They made the front page of the New York Times. They have appeared in at least one TV documentary. And they were involved with a French movie, which garnered them a trip to the Cannes Film Festival for the movie's showing.

   Now they are on the trail of DNA from Billy pretenders in other states. I'm not wild about digging up bodies, especially when they are in graves so old the disturbed bones may be someone else's. That apparently happened when two graves were excavated with a backhoe in Prescott, Arizona.

   That was over a year ago and no DNA results have been released. If the investigators were to eventually claim a match with Billy's blood, I'm afraid they'll have to start putting up with me again.

MON, 8-27-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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