SANTA FE, N.M. -- Billy the Kid, the Old West outlaw who killed at least three lawmen and tried to cut a deal from jail with territorial authorities, won't be pardoned, Gov. Bill Richardson said Friday.
The prospect of a pardon for the notorious frontier figure
nearly 130 years after his death drew international attention to
New Mexico, centering on whether Billy the Kid had been promised a
pardon from New Mexico's territorial governor in return for
testimony in killings he had witnessed.
But the facts of the case didn't support a pardon, Richardson
said Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America." He had been formally
petitioned to grant one.
The proposed pardon covered the 1878 killing of Lincoln County
Sheriff William Brady. Billy the Kid was shot to death by Sheriff
Pat Garrett in 1881, a few months after escaping from jail where he
was awaiting hanging in Brady's death.
He killed two deputies while escaping. The pardon petition did
not cover those deaths, but Richardson said he had to consider them
in his decision.
Garrett's grandson, J.P. Garrett of Albuquerque, sent an e-mail
to The Associated Press: "Yea!!! No pardon! Looks like it will be
a great new year!!!!"
According to legend, Billy the Kid killed 21 people, one for
each year of his life. The New Mexico Tourism Department puts the
total closer to nine.
Richardson, the former U.N. ambassador and Democratic
presidential candidate, waited until the last minute to announce
his decision. His term ends at midnight Friday.
The historical record on the pardon is unclear, and Richardson
staff members told him in August there are no written documents
"pertaining in any way" to a pardon in the papers of the
territorial governor, Lew Wallace, who served in office from 1878
Wallace's great-grandson, William Wallace of Westport, Conn.,
said Richardson "followed the correct, rational track in forgoing
a pardon for a convicted murderer."
Richardson said he decided against a pardon "because of a lack
of conclusiveness and the historical ambiguity as to why Gov.
Wallace reneged on his promise."
Richardson set up a website in mid-December to hear from the
public after Albuquerque attorney Randi McGinn submitted a formal
petition for a pardon. His office received 809 e-mails and letters
from all over the world in the survey that ended Sunday, with 430
favoring a pardon and 379 opposed.
McGinn said she was disappointed by Richardson's decision, but
thrilled at renewed interest in the history prompted by the pardon
issue. She said she hoped people would come to New Mexico, see
letters Billy the Kid wrote to Lew Wallace, walk down Lincoln's
single street and decide for themselves whether Billy the Kid was
"the Robin Hood of the West or a notorious killer."
McGinn argued Wallace promised to pardon the Kid, also known as
William Bonney or Henry McCarty.
She said the Kid kept his end of the bargain, but the
territorial governor did not.
The Kid was a ranch hand and gunslinger in the bloody Lincoln
County War, a feud between factions vying to dominate the dry goods
business and cattle trading in southern New Mexico.
J.P. Garrett has said there's no proof Gov. Wallace offered a
pardon - and may have tricked the Kid into testifying.
"The big picture is that Wallace obviously had no intent to
pardon Billy - even telling a reporter that fact in an interview on
April 28, 1881," he wrote. "So there was no 'pardon promise' that
Wallace broke. But I do think there was a pardon 'trick,' in that
Wallace led Billy on to get his testimony."
He also said that when the Kid was awaiting trial in Brady's
killing, "he wrote four letters for aid, but never used the word
William Wallace said his ancestor never promised a pardon and
that pardoning the Kid "would declare Lew Wallace to have been a
The Kid wrote Lew Wallace in 1879, volunteering to testify if
Wallace would annul pending charges against him, including a murder
indictment in Brady's death.
A tantalizing part of the question is a clandestine meeting
Wallace had with the Kid in Lincoln in March 1879. The Kid's
letters leave no doubt he wanted Wallace to at least grant him
immunity from prosecution.
Wallace, in arranging the meeting, responded: "I have authority
to exempt you from prosecution if you will testify to what you say
"It seems to me that when the government makes a deal with you,
it should keep its promise," McGinn said after filing the request.
But when the Las Vegas, N.M., Gazette asked Wallace shortly
before he left office about prospects of sparing the Kid's life,
Wallace replied: "I can't see how a fellow like him should expect
any clemency from me."
No Pardon for Outlaw "Billy the Kid"
Billy the Kid
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