More people say they favor a pardon for Billy the Kid than oppose the idea after Governor Bill Richardson’s office set up a Web site and e-mail address to take comments on a possible posthumous pardon for one of New Mexico’s most famous Old West outlaws.
Richardson’s office received 809 e-mails and letters in the survey that ended on Sunday. While 430 argued for a pardon, 379 opposed it.
The Web site was created after Albuquerque attorney Randi McGinn petitioned for a pardon, saying that Lew Wallace, who served as territorial governor of New Mexico from 1878 to 1881, had promised one in return for the Kid’s testimony in a murder case against three men.
Richardson’s term ends on Friday, leaving him only a few days to decide whether to pardon the Kid in the 1878 killing of Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady.
“I might not pardon him, but then I might,” Richardson told reporters last week.
His successor, incoming New Mexico governor Susana Martinez, has already said she won’t be wasting her time on a pardon. The Republican said on Tuesday that state issues, such as a balanced budget and a controversial move of the state’s DNA laboratory, were more pressing.
“There’s an awful lot of work to be taken care of for us to be wasting so much time on such a consideration. It’s just a waste,” she said.
Billy the Kid, also known as William Bonney or Henry McCarty, was shot to death by sheriff Pat Garrett in July 1881, a few months after escaping from the Lincoln County jail where he was awaiting hanging for Brady’s death. He killed two deputies while escaping, but McGinn’s pardon request does not cover those deaths.
McGinn, knowing Richardson’s interest in the Kid, offered to look into the issue this summer. She petitioned for a pardon on Dec. 14 after reviewing historical documents and other material.
E-mails debating the issue came from all over the US and beyond, said Richardson’s deputy chief of staff, Eric Witt.
“This has clearly generated a lot of interest globally,” Witt said.
He said responses, pro and con, came from people familiar with the legend of Billy the Kid as well as from people knowledgeable about the territorial era and the Lincoln County War, in which the Kid and Brady were on opposite sides.
Some argued that circumstantial evidence points toward Wallace offering a pardon and said it was not implausible since Wallace pardoned other people involved in the Lincoln County War. Others questioned why Richardson would consider pardoning “a cop killer,” Witt said.
McGinn has said the point is not who was killed, but whether a government has to keep its promise.
Among those opposing a pardon are Garrett’s grandson J.P. Garrett, of Albuquerque.
J.P. Garrett has said there’s no proof former governor Wallace offered a pardon — and he 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 to Witt. “But I do think there was a pardon ‘trick,’ in that Wallace led Billy on to get his testimony.”