The fight over digging up the remains of Billy the Kid's mother for DNA testing has been brewing for months, and on Monday a New Mexico state judge determined who gets to participate in next month's legal showdown.
Monday's hearing focused on the representation for each side in court proceedings on the proposed exhumation of the Kid's mother, Catherine Antrim, whose gravestone stands in a Silver City cemetery. State District Judge Henry Quintero ruled that the town of Silver City and Mayor Terry Fortenberry have legal standing to intervene in the case.
The judge said that Bill Robins, who was appointed to the case by Gov. Bill Richardson, would be allowed to represent the Kid's interests. Robins is seeking a posthumous pardon for the Kid, whose real name was William H. Bonney.
Quintero also pushed back the Jan. 6 exhumation hearing until Jan. 27 so he would have a full day for the proceedings.
Some local and county officials want proof that Sheriff Pat Garrett killed Billy the Kid on July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner. Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan, Capitan Mayor Steve Sederwall and De Baca County Sheriff Gary Graves have spearheaded the effort to dig up the remains.
The three would like to compare the Antrim DNA evidence with that of a Hico, Texas, man who died in 1950 claiming he was Billy the Kid. Proving Antrim's biological relationship would help establish or disprove claims that Billy the Kid is buried in New Mexico.
In his court filings on the Kid's behalf, Robins has voiced support for exhuming Antrim's remains.
Opponents of the exhumation, however, have called the request an unnecessary publicity stunt that has no legal, scientific or historic merit. They argue a person's remains should not be disturbed once they are buried.
"We hope that the court will recognize the importance of protecting the sanctity of Catherine Antrim's grave site," said Steve May, a Silver City councilman.
Sherry Tippett, who's representing Sullivan and the others, said the exhumation is simply a way to find out the truth.
"We have a bona fide investigation to determine whether Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid," Tippett said. "I think we have the tools to find out. My question is, what's wrong with that?
"I find it odd that they're opposed to something that would bring so much notoriety," she said.
But even if proponents are allowed to exhume the bodies, it will not be an easy ride, Fort Sumner officials say.
"We have documentation that shows Billy the Kid was shot, killed and buried here in Fort Sumner. That's enough," said Fort Sumner Mayor Raymond Lopez. "But I can assure you, if they want to dig in our cemetery, they are going to have a fight on their hands."