Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How Sheriff Solano became involved with Billy the Kid.

When I first ran for Sheriff in 1998 I never thought that an issue I would deal with would involve Billy the Kid. It wasn't in 1998 when I lost my first run for Sheriff but actually in 2002 when I ran that I was first brought into the legend of Billy the Kid.

During my campaign for sheriff I met a woman who befriended my wife and I and began helping me in my run for office. I credit her with a lot of the success of the 2002 campaign. A lot of people think that there must always be ulterior motives or someone helps in a political campaign just because they want a job. But that is not always the case. This woman is very active in political campaigns just because she chooses candidates she believes in and works to get them elected. She chose me and I have been honored ever since. At the end of my campaign for sheriff and when it was all said and done I ended up with a campaign debt of thousands of dollars. When you end up with a campaign debt it means you paid the money out of your own pocket, not usually that there are creditors waiting to get paid.

A young lawyer had moved to Santa Fe from out of state and was making the social and political rounds and was making a name for himself. He was donating to political campaigns during the 2002 elections. He had a multi state law firm that must do well as he seemed to do well financially for himself. The woman who helped my campaign had met him and convinced him to throw a party at his office to help raise money to clear my campaign debt. It was a small wine and cheese get together at his downtown office and my campaign debt was cleared. Once again I was greatly appreciative of all her help and I found a new friend in that attorney, Bill Robins.

I ran during the year that Governor Bill Richardson was swept into office on a groundswell of support. While he may have his problems now in 2010 in 2002 it was a different story. As I ran breathless and exhausted from political event to political event, he floated from event to event on the shoulders of thousands of supporters. Unions, State workers, Democrats, Republicans, Women, Men, Anglos, Hispanics all groups supported him and enthusiastically swept him into office. One of his campaign contributors was also Attorney Bill Robins who became my friend. But the truth is Richardson was a master at raising money and almost everyone who ever gave to political campaigns gave to Richardson.

I truly believe it was not a favor for the donation and fundraiser, but about a year later Bill Robins and I were having dinner and he asked me what I thought about a pardon for Billy the Kid. Now I read a lot but mostly modern day biography's, fiction, and anything news related. The only thing I really knew about Billy the Kid came from watching the movie Young Guns. Sometime around 1987 the movie was being filmed in Santa Fe and my wife Antoinette got Lou Diamond Phillups autograph at a now defunct nightclub in Santa Fe called Mr. R's. All she had at the time was a bar tab receipt borrowed from a waitress and a pencil to get the autograph. In 1988 we were invited to the Santa Fe Premiere of the movie at the old Lensic theater. It was the source of just about all I ever knew of Billy the Kid.

Lou Diamond Phillups Autograph and our invitation to the Young Guns Premier.

Well at that dinner Bill Robins told me a story about how Billy the Kid was not all the legend made him out to be. It was a long story and the basics of it can be found here. Now I have found out that there are a lot of versions of his life and how many people he killed and whether he was fighting for justice as a deputy in the Lincoln county wars or whether he was a cold blooded killer. If you have about 20 minutes to read the above link it is a very interesting story of his life and exploits. Keep in mind as you read it that other versions of his story are out there as well. The basics is that Billy the kid claimed he witnessed the murder of an attorney Huston Chapman however some claimed he took part in the murder. By this time Billy the Kid was already wanted for murder related to the Lincoln County Wars and the Governor Lew Wallace wanted the murderers brought to justice. Billy the kid contacted the governor by mail and offered to testify in return for a pardon on his outstanding warrants for murder. The following was taken from the above link with one of the stories of Billy's life.

On March 13, 1879 the Kid wrote to the governor and offered to testify against Chapman’s murderers in exchange to have his indictments annulled. The governor wrote back inviting the Kid to meet with him. In his letter to the Kid, he wrote, “I have authority to exempt you from prosecution if you will testify to what you say you know,” and he closed with: “If you could trust Jesse Evans, you can trust me.”

On March 17th, the Kid met the governor in Lincoln. During the meeting, Governor Lew Wallace made the promise the Kid had hoped for. The governor stated clearly, that if the Kid testified in court, that “in return for you’re doing this, I will let you go scot-free with a pardon in your pocket for all your
misdeeds.” The agreement was made. The Kid would submit to a fake arrest, testify against Chapman’s killers, James Dolan and Colonel Dudley, for a full pardon. A couple days later, the Kid and Tom O’Folliard surrendered to Sheriff Kimbrell as planned and were confined at Patron’s store. The governor interviewed the Kid by asking him about the Rustlers’ hideouts and about the rustling activities in the territory. The Kid held nothing back and told everything that Governor Wallace wanted to know.

The following month the Kid began his court appearances, but due to the fact that Judge Bristol and prosecutor William Rynerson were Dolan men, the defendants were either pardoned under the governor’s proclamation or acquitted. Surprisingly O'Folliard was even given amnesty, but the Kid wasn't so lucky. The Kid's enemies were dead set on not letting him get away. The biggest threat to the Kid was prosecutor attorney William Rynerson, who not only wouldn't go along with the governor's bargain with the Kid, but got a change of venue to Dona Ana County for the Kid's trial. So instead of being tried in Lincoln where the Kid would be acquitted, he would be put on trial in a very bias courtroom where he didn't stand a chance. But that wasn’t the Kid’s only problem, the governor wasn’t making good his promise of a pardon, probably due to the lack of cooperation from Rynerson, so left the Kid to his fate, while he went back to Santa Fe to finish his book Ben Hur. After all, to Wallace, the Kid was just an outlaw -so who cares?
So Billy the kid was tried and sentenced to death by hanging. He never received his promised pardon. According to one of the stories he felt betrayed and rather than face death he escaped and killed a deputy during the escape. Thus began his cat and mouse game with newly elected Sheriff Pat Garrett who eventually killed him. Attorney Bill Robins also told me about a legend that Billy the Kid may not have been killed after all but instead lived a long life under the alias of Brushy Bill Roberts. Some wanted to exhume body's and do DNA testing to see if Billy the Kid really did finish out his life as Brushy Bill Roberts. Bill Robins was very interested in the life of Billy the Kid and was talking to Governor Richardson about pardoning Billy the Kid and giving him the promise Governor Lew Wallace broke when he was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

Bill Robins wanted to know how I felt about the whole thing. I told him that being a law enforcement officer all my adult life I could not publicly support the pardon. He told me he had hoped to have a trial which would allow a mock jury to make the decision and give a new look at the old cases. I told him that once again while I could not support the pardon I would not publicly oppose it either. He was happy with that since he was most worried about huge opposition from law enforcement.

It made national news when Bill Robins got as far as getting appointed by Governor Richardson to represent Billy the Kids interests as his attorney in looking at a pardon and even though a new trial was promised it has not happened. The whole Billy the kid thing kind of went away during the rest of Richardson's term and Bill Robins married and seemed to go on to other endeavors including children. I also forgot about Billy the Kid as well.

On October 1, 2009 I was invited to unveil a plaque marking the site of the jail that held Billy the Kid in Santa Fe for three months in 1880-1881. I was joined by the mayor and the Grandson of Sheriff Pat Garrett, J.P. Garrett. It was a fun event and meeting the Grandson of Sheriff Pat Garrett was an honor. I gave him a small Sheriff's Badge Pin from the Santa Fe Sheriff's Office. Last week he contacted me as the push for Governor Richardson to pardon Billy the Kid has again made the news and the Governor appears as though he is ready to consider it again as he leaves office. J.P. Garrett asked me to sign a petition which the Garrett family was going to send to the Governor along with a letter from the Garrett family asking the Governor to not pardon Billy the Kid.

Once again I remembered my promise to my friend to not get involved in this issue so I explained to J.P. Garrett that I had agreed to not get involved and I would abide by that decision. I have no doubt that Billy the Kid murdered a Sheriff and several others. Whether he felt he had no choice or not he did still commit murder. However, if he was promised a pardon for his testimony in the Chapman murder there is a lot to be said for the pardon of his crimes up to that point. Then there are those who say that if he had received the pardon he would not have had to escape jail and kill others during the escape and manhunts that followed. Billy the Kid claimed he wanted to come clean and live a clean life after he was pardoned. Whether he really could have done that or whether he would have just continued in a life of crime after being pardoned is something we will never know.

I have read a lot lately about the Lincoln County wars and the truth is New Mexico truly was the wild wild west where corruption and murder were the name of the game. Sheriff's were corrupt and the "rings" as they were called controlled the law, the government, and controlled New Mexico. It has made me appreciate even more the responsibility of being Sheriff. I often think back to my discussions with movie star Burt Reynolds whose father was a Sheriff. He once asked me " do you know how you can tell an honest sheriff?" No I answered, how? "He is a broke sheriff." he said with a smile. While I am not broke, I lead a modest but good life.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

From Baghdad to Santa Fe, A Short Story

In 2005 I wrote a short story for the Santa Fe Reporter's yearly writing contest. I won second place for the story. I posted it online on an old AOL account I had and a few years ago AOL shut down its FTP site and I lost it. I had it on an old computer and lost my copy there also. My assistant did me a favor and contacted the Santa Fe Reporter and retrieved a copy. So besides saving it in multiple places so I don't lose it again I thought I would archive it by posting it as a blog post. Its kind of dark so I won't necessarily say I hope you enjoy it.

From Baghdad to Santa Fe
By Greg Solano

Sweat poured down my forehead as I awoke in the middle of the night for the fourth night in a row. What the hell is going on? I glance over at the clock and the red neon numbers tell me that its 3:30 am. I am wide-awake and the adrenaline is still pumping through my veins. My heart pounds and I can feel my chest still heaving for air. Might as well get up, no way I’m going back to sleep. As I step out onto the portal the Autumnal Moon lights up my entire neighborhood, big bright and so large I felt like I could reach out and touch it. The brisk morning air felt good against my still sweating body. I couldn’t help but think how different this was than early morning in Baghdad. Actually, I can’t help but think of Baghdad every day, or every night.

It’s now 8:00 am, time for my morning walk to the convenience store to get the paper. Another day spent looking for a job.So much for “being all that I can be”, I often thought that going into the military out of high school would be the beginning of my adult life. A good start to some kind of career. Boy was I wrong. When I left Santa Fe I was making $7.00 an hour at the auto parts store. This was my after school job while I finished my senior year. Now with the living wage law, that job as many others pays at least $8.50 an hour. But still, what do I do, go ahead and take one of these minimum wage jobs?I sure am not having much luck with anything else. The only job I have been offered so far is from a friend who needs help cleaning Whole Foods parking lot at night. I don’t really think my country owes me a job or anything but is this what I spent two years of my life in the military for? Maybe this is all I can be.

What’s that smell? My mind flashes back again, I can hear the ammo flying through the assault rifle. I smell the gunpowder and hot metal in the air. I hear the sound of lead ricocheting on the pavement around me. Pieces of asphalt hitting my leg, or are they bullets? I look over at the rest of my regimen and realize that Adam’s been hit, several medics are working on him. He looks dead, Damn Iraqis! My fear turns to anger as I empty my weapon in a hail of gunfire. I sweep my weapon from left to right hoping someone ahead of me goes down. An eye for an eye, they kill one of ours we kill ten of theirs. What’s that horn? Oh, all right, all right I’m getting out of the way. Asshole flipped me off. And then you wonder why people have road rage and shoot others. Ok, so I was in the middle of the road. There’s that smell again, oh, ok it’s my neighbor and his welder. Amazing how much the hot metal being welded smells like the hot metal smell of an assault rifle. Or how the smell of meat on the barbecue smells like burning flesh. It’s been six months now. I wonder how long before I stop having these flashbacks. When will I be normal again?

I pick up the local paper and on the cover there is some kids stuffing the head of Zozobra. What a ceremony, thousands show up to see a hundred foot puppet burnt to the ground in a pagan ceremony that is the closest thing to witchcraft I have ever seen. It’s fiestas in Santa Fe this weekend. It used to be a big thing for me. All my friends and I would go downtown and hang out. Used to be everyone had drinks on the plaza and the burning of Zozobra was on Friday night. After the burning we would all walk down to the plaza and eat, drink and drink some more. Even though we were not 21, it wasn’t as big a deal as it is now. We all walked around with beer in our coke cups. The cops were ok with it as long as we didn’t totally get out of hand. Now there is no drinking what so ever on the plaza. Zozobra’s burning has been moved to Thursday, which cuts down on the party’s and drinking afterward since people with jobs have to be at work in the morning.

I go into the convenience store and get a cup of coffee and a lottery ticket. What the hell, if I can’t get a job, maybe I can win a hundred million and not have to worry about it. As I drink my coffee I look through the classifieds. Nothing new today, same ads that I applied for on Monday and Tuesday.

It’s 1:00 in the afternoon, my old high school buddy agreed to give me a ride to Albuquerque for my appointment. Two months ago I decided to call the V.A. Hospital and talk to someone about the flashbacks. A couple of visits and months later I am finally actually seeing a councilor. Man, me going to a shrink. Who would have ever thought this would ever happen to me. I never needed anything from anyone else before. I was a tough young man who prided himself on being a “real man”. I used to joke with my friends when one of them showed up in sandals and I would say things like “real men don’t wear sandals”. I never even went to the doctor. Once when I cracked a rib, I sucked it up. Took some Tylenol and went on telling others, and myself “there’s nothing they can do with cracked ribs anyway”.

The counselor is kind of a hippy looking dude. Turns out he was in Vietnam and came back with the same kind of problems I have. They have a fancy name for it now he tells me. It’s called P.T.S.D., stands for post traumatic stress disorder. According to the doc it’s pretty common for those returning from Iraq. The doc says it’s probably why I can’t get a job. I’m not at my sharpest and the depression I am feeling is probably showing up in my interviews. As we talk about my experiences in Iraq I start telling him about the first time I saw a dead body. I always thought it would be exciting with the moody sounding music playing in the background just like in the movies. But, it wasn’t.

The first body I saw as I exited the back end of a truck just inside Baghdad was lying in the middle of the road. It was an older man who only had a small amount of blood dripping down from the edge of his mouth. It looked unreal, I remember thinking how this was no different than watching a body on TV. At least it didn’t feel different. I had no feelings for this man; I looked at him with curiosity but no feelings. A hundred bodies later, some kids, some adults, some women, and some men, and I still thought I didn’t feel much. But now six months back in the U.S. I wake up in the middle of the night after I see their faces again. Now they matter to me, why now? Well the end of my first counseling session and I have more questions than answers. My buddy asks me if I want to go see old man gloom tomorrow night with him and his kids. Maybe, I tell him. I’ll call him tomorrow and let him know.

It’s 5:00 in the afternoon now, as we cross St Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road I see the protesters out again. This is odd; they are usually out on Fridays. Veterans for peace they call themselves. I wonder how many are actually veterans. Maybe that’s how they deal with their flashbacks. I wonder would that make me feel better? Standing on a street corner holding signs declaring to the world my quest for world peace? They are persistent. Almost three years they have been out here doing this. One day I sat in the old Bonanza parking lot and watched them for a while. Some cars drove by and gave the thumbs up and some gave the one finger salute. Sometimes the protesters didn’t know which was coming as they turned to wave at the latest car driving by honking. Sometimes they were waving to the finger and some derogatory comment, and sometimes they were waving to a peace sign or thumbs up. Would it be hypocritical to have the anger that I do towards those that killed my friends and still promote peace? Is that how I atone for all the people I killed or helped kill? The bible says only say the word and you shall be forgiven. Jesus forgave Judas, maybe that’s what I need, to be forgiven. Maybe that’s why they stand there every Friday holding their signs.

It’s 11:00 at night and I’m feeling a little woozy. The television blares a baseball game above the bar at foxes. One more Bud Light and I’ll head home. The lottery numbers flash across the television screen. My streak of luck continues as I see that I didn’t even get one number. Two beers later and I head to Taco Bell. Thank god for late night drive up windows. As I cruise down Cerrillos Road I try to keep the car centered between the white lines. I’m cool I tell myself, I can drive ok, I’m not that drunk. As I approach Taco Bell a mortar shell crosses in front of my windshield. I swerve right as I reach for my radio to warn the troops behind me. I feel my armored humvee start to roll. It rolls several times and I feel glass and metal all around me. The pain is sharp and sudden but then just as suddenly disappears. Medic, Medic! I can’t believe I’m going to die in an accident, no blaze of glory, no big firefight. I rolled my humvee! I can see myself lying in the street now, thrown clear of the small car that once surrounded me. Wait, small car? Who are those kids running away? Was that really just a bottle rocket?

The cops are around me now. The ambulance arrives and one of the men tells the cop, we can’t resuscitate, he didn’t make it. “Another D.W.I.” the cop says as he unrolls the yellow crime scene tape around my car and body. After all that fighting in Baghdad who would have ever thought the Iraqis would kill me, right here in Santa Fe New Mexico.