Lawsuit Seeks DNA Evidence for 1881 Death of Billy the Kid

An amateur historian and a newspaper publisher have filed a lawsuit against Lincoln County authorities they say are withholding public records about DNA evidence collected during an investigation into Billy the Kid's death in 1881.

As legend has it, the Kid, aka William Bonney, was shot by then-Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, but questions about his death persist with some claiming he lived to a ripe old age. They say Garrett shot the wrong man and covered it up.

In 2003, former Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan and former Deputy Steven Sederwall launched an investigation into the death to determine whether it really was the Kid who was shot by Garrett and buried at Fort Sumner.

Scot Stinnett, publisher of the De Baca County News, and Gale Cooper, a retired psychiatrist and amateur historian, say Lincoln County Sheriff Rick Virden has the duty under the Inspection of Public Records Act to obtain and produce records from that investigation, the Albuquerque Journal reported in a copyright story Thursday.

Virden says he does not have any records.

Sullivan and Sederwall say anything they did was on personal time and using their own or privately donated money, so any records they might have are their personal material.

New Mexico Foundation for Open Government executive director Leonard DeLayo said his organization is interested in the reason the records are not being produced.

"Our interest is in the continuity of record keeping, and that when you generate a document during an investigation, it's public information," DeLayo said. "You don't take it with you, and you don't claim that you did it on your own time."

During the investigation, two bodies in Arizona have been exhumed and analyzed by celebrity forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee.

Stinnett and Cooper say they want Lee's analysis of DNA from blood on a carpenter's bench where Billy the Kid's body supposedly was placed after being fatally wounded by Garrett in Fort Sumner.

They also want Lee's analysis of DNA from two exhumed bodies in Arizona: John Miller, who claimed he was the Kid, and William Hudspeth, whose remains were unintentionally unearthed during Miller's exhumation. They also want information regarding any payments to Lee.

Cooper filed several requests under New Mexico's public records law seeking the records.