ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a sworn statement, a 72-year-old man says Sheriff Pat Garrett's widow told him 63 years ago that her husband didn't kill Billy the Kid -- Garrett's friend -- but that Garrett and the Kid shot a drunk in his place.
The affidavit of Homer Overton was offered as evidence for exhuming the body of the Kid's mother, Catherine Antrim, to compare her DNA with that of a Texas man who claimed until his death in 1950 that he was William Bonney, known in Western lore as Billy the Kid.
A hearing on the exhumation petition is scheduled Jan. 27 in Silver City, where Antrim is buried. City officials there oppose disturbing the grave.
Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan, Deputy Steve Sederwall and DeBaca County Sheriff Gary Graves are asking for the exhumation. They want to know if Antrim's DNA shows any relationship to Ollie "Brushy Bill" Roberts, a Hico, Texas, man who long claimed to be the Kid.
A coroner's jury concluded in 1881 that Garrett killed Bonney with a gunshot to the left breast. But according to Overton's affidavit, Apolonaria Garrett -- Pat Garrett's widow -- told Overton, then 9, and his boyhood buddy Bobby Talbert that Garrett and Bonney shot a drunk lying in a Fort Sumner street, putting the bullet in his face to make him unrecognizable so his body could pass for Bonney's.
Overton lives in Alta Loma, Calif., where he gave the Dec. 27 affidavit filed in court in Silver City a week ago. The affidavit says the boys visited Apolonaria Garrett in the summer of 1940, about 32 years after her husband was fatally shot near Las Cruces.
"I believe what Mrs. Garrett told us that day was the absolute truth.... It made such an impression on me that I have remembered it in detail these 63 years," Overton's affidavit says.
Sullivan, sheriff in the county where Bonney was convicted of murdering one of Sullivan's predecessors in the 1870s, has said it is important to determine the truth of such stories.
If Antrim's DNA is consistent or inconsistent with Roberts', that would help corroborate either one story or the other, petitioners contend.
"We are on a quest for the truth," said Sherry Tippett, attorney for the sheriffs and the deputy. As for whether Garrett and Bonney conspired to kill a stranger, Tippett said, "it's a plausible theory," but she declined to draw a conclusion.
Silver City officials oppose exhumation, saying they have a responsibility to avoid disturbing the dead. They said the notion that such a cover-up could have worked "strains credulity."
Stories have persisted for generations of connections between Bonney and Garrett, Tippett said. "It varies from 'They just knew each other from a card game' to 'They were pals,' " she said.
In oral histories recorded during the 1930s under the federal Works Progress Administration, several interviewees said they doubted that Garrett shot Bonney, she said.
"There are a number of people who believe that. And now that we have the tools to determine the truth, don't we have the responsibility?" Tippett said.