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LINCOLN, N.M. (AP) — The Lincoln County sheriff's office has opened an investigation into the escape of Billy the Kid from the Lincoln County jail 122 years ago, hoping to determine whether the Kid had an accomplice and if then-Sheriff Pat Garrett indeed tracked down and killed the escaped gunslinger.

The investigation will focus on the April 28, 1881, escape during which the Kid killed two lawmen, said Steve Sederwall, a reserve officer for the sheriff's office.

At the time, Billy the Kid was waiting to be hanged for the murder of Sheriff William Brady, a casualty of a New Mexico range war now known as the Lincoln County War.

Sederwall said Garrett never officially investigated the killings of the two lawmen since he already had a death warrant for the Kid.

Sederwall and longtime Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan want Gov. Bill Richardson to authorize the state police to assist in the investigation. Richardson is considering the request, said the governor's spokesman, Billy Sparks.

"The governor is very interested in getting to the bottom of the Billy the Kid legend," he said.

Sederwall said he hopes state police could determine whether the Kid had an accomplice. Sullivan hopes for a crime scene reconstruction, similar to what was done at the legendary OK Corral gunfight in Tombstone, Ariz.

Some physical evidence might be left in the historic courthouse in the form of a fragment of the bullet that killed one lawman, Sullivan said. It would be in a wall, since plastered over, at the bottom of a staircase where the Kid shot the man.

If investigators could determine the type of bullet, they could tell whether the lawman was shot with his own gun or another provided to Billy by an accomplice.

Sullivan also wants to prove Garrett killed the Kid, also known as William Bonney, on July 14, 1881, in a Fort Sumner house and that the Kid was buried nearby.

Some claim Garrett shot the wrong man, and at least two people later claimed to have been the Kid. Other people contend a body buried in England is the Kid's.

Sullivan said the impetus for the investigation began more than a decade ago when he visited a museum in Hico, Texas, dedicated to Brushy Bill Roberts, who claimed to be Billy the Kid.

"The theme of the Lincoln County sheriff's office is Pat Garrett. We've got Pat Garrett on our shoulder patches," Sullivan said. "So what they're alleging over there really is that Garrett killed somebody else in Fort Sumner and covered it up. We would like to clear his name."

Sullivan wants to exhume the body of Bonney's mother, buried in Silver City, and compare the DNA to that of Brushy Bill Roberts' body.

The state would have to get a court order to exhume the body.

The DNA also could be compared to the body buried at Fort Sumner and to other claimants, said Dale Tunnell, a forensics expert for the Arizona Department of Corrections, who is helping in the case.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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