New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson Friday refused to pardon Wild West outlaw Billy the Kid, saying there was not enough evidence to forgive the infamous gunslinger, killed in 1881.
Advocates for a pardon at the time said the legendary gunman — reputed to have shot dead 21 people, one for each year of his life — had reached a pardon deal with then-New Mexico governor Lew Wallace in exchange for testimony regarding another shooting.
However, Wallace allegedly failed to pardon the outlaw, who was then shot down by Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881.
Richardson said he has been investigating Billy the Kid — whose real name was William Bonney, but was also known as Henry McCarty and Henry Antrim — since he first took office.
However, on his last day as governor, Richardson declined to pardon the gunslinger.
“I have decided not to pardon Billy the Kid because of a lack of conclusiveness, and also the historical ambiguity as to why governor Wallace reneged on his pardon,” Richardson announced on ABC TV.
The legend of Billy the Kid has inspired dozens of books and films, several impostors and attempts to exhume his grave to test for DNA.
He likely killed at least four people, and possibly more, though the figure of 21 dead may just be part of the legend.
Richardson acknowledged that talking about Billy the Kid was a likely plus for tourism in the US state.
“It’s gotten great publicity for the state. I acknowledge that. And I support that,” he said.
Various fans of the Billy the Kid legend have pushed for the pardon for more than a decade, including Elbert Garcia of Santa Rosa, New Mexico, who claims to be the gunman’s great-grandson.
Garcia, 71, who got up early at his home in the town of Santa Rosa to watch Richardson on TV, said he was “disappointed” upon hearing the news.
Richardson “never called me from my end, even though I wrote him all kinds of statements ... I’m going to get on Facebook now to tell all my friends,” he said.
Sheriff Garrett’s grandchildren opposed the pardon, saying it would amount to painting the sheriff as a cold-blooded killer.
Richardson “took an admirable way of saying no to the pardon, which is great,” said Jarvis Patrick “JP” Garrett, the sheriff’s grandson.
Garrett said he thought Richardson did not issue a pardon because New Mexico was a federal territory at the time — it did not become a state until 1912 — so any killings were federal crimes and cannot be pardoned by a state governor.
Garrett’s granddaughter Susannah also welcomed Richard’s decision, saying: “I do believe Billy’s ruthless and notoriously violent nature has been camouflaged by the romance of the [wild] west.”
However, local librarian Paige Pinnell, a student of the history surrounding Billy the Kid, voiced disappointment.
“There’s no proof that Billy shot anybody at that particular time,” Pinnell said.
Susana Martinez, who takes over as governor of New Mexico on Saturday, said she viewed the proposed pardon as a waste of time.