Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Billy the Kid To Stay Buried
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
LAS CRUCES Instead of going to a court hearing Monday, Fort Sumner officials and their supporters met to celebrate a surprise development in their fight against the proposed exhumation of Billy the Kid's body from the village-owned cemetery.
The three county investigators who sought to extract DNA from the Kid's body as part of their examination into the outlaw's death in 1881 agreed to dismiss their request, with prejudice, last Friday in the 10th Judicial District Court in Fort Sumner.
"We just don't need it, we don't need to do that," said Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan. "We're going in a different direction."
Sullivan, along with Lincoln County reserve deputy Steve Sederwall and DeBaca County Sheriff Gary Graves, announced their investigation in June 2003 with the support of Gov. Bill Richardson.
Historians' consensus is that Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett gunned down the Kid in Fort Sumner on July 14, 1881.
But the lawmen said they wanted to clear up "lingering question" about whether Garrett really did slay the Kid, or, as several men over the decades claimed, the Kid lived on as Ollie P. "Brushy Bill" Roberts of Hico, Texas, or John Miller of Arizona.
Those claims presume that Garrett killed someone other than the outlaw and allowed the Kid to escape.
Silver City first rebuffed the lawmen in their attempts last year to obtain DNA from the body of the Kid's mother there.
On Friday, the lawmen dropped their effort to retrieve DNA from the Kid's body; his grave is a prized local tourist destination.
The stipulated dismissal with prejudice means the investigators cannot try again later in Fort Sumner, said the investigators' attorney Mark Acuna of Albuquerque.
"Our main purpose was to keep Billy the Kid underground, and I think we succeeded," said village Mayor Raymond Lopez, who on Monday proclaimed a number of supporters honorary residents of Fort Sumner. On hand was British historian Frederick Nolan, author of "The West of Billy the Kid," who placed a bouquet of flowers at the outlaw's grave.
Fort Sumner officials have argued that the investigation would not produce conclusive results about the Kid's final resting place and, as a result, hurt the site's value as a tourist destination.
Instead of looking to the Kid's grave, the investigators are hoping material taken last month from a century-old workbench where they believe the outlaw's body was laid will yield usable DNA, Acuna said.
Both Sullivan and Sederwall declined to comment on whether they plan to renew their attempt to retrieve DNA from the body of the outlaw's mother, whose grave is in Silver City.
Billy Sparks, a spokesman for the governor, said Richardson "was pleased with the dismissal of the motion." Sparks noted that an attorney appointed by Richardson to represent the Kid in the investigation had withdrawn from the exhumation effort last month.