ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Descendants of Old West lawman Pat Garrett and New Mexico Territorial Gov. Lew Wallace are outraged that Gov. Bill Richardson is considering a pardon for Billy the Kid, saying Wallace never offered a pardon, and a petition seeking one is tainted because it comes from a lawyer with ties to Richardson.
Sheriff Pat Garrett's grandson J.P. Garrett and Wallace's great-grandson William Wallace submitted their objections after Richardson set up a website last week to take public comment on the possibility of a posthumous pardon for the Kid on a murder indictment. The governor plans to make a decision before his term ends Dec. 31.
"I don't know where I'll end up. I might not pardon him. But then I might," he told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
As of Tuesday, the governor's office had received 370 e-mails and about 20 letters, with sentiment so far running slightly in favor of the pardon, said Eric Witt, Richardson's deputy chief of staff.
The issue centers on whether Lew Wallace, governor of the territory from 1878 to 1881, promised a pardon in return for the Kid's testimony in a murder case against three men.
J.P. Garrett, of Albuquerque, who with other Garrett descendants met with Richardson in August to oppose a pardon, said there's no proof Gov. Wallace offered one — 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 Witt. "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."
William Wallace, of Westport, Conn., said his ancestor never promised a pardon and that pardoning the Kid "would declare Lew Wallace to have been a dishonorable liar."
Billy the Kid, also known as William Bonney, was shot to death by Sheriff Garrett in July 1881.
Richardson said The Kid is part of New Mexico history and that he has been interested in the case for years.
"Just think of all the good publicity New Mexico is receiving around the world on this," the governor said. "It's fun."
J.P. Garrett said he wants to see written evidence of the promise cited by Albuquerque attorney Randi McGinn, who submitted a petition for a pardon last week after reviewing historical documents.
The Kid wrote Wallace in 1879, volunteering to testify in the murder case if Wallace would annul pending charges against him, including a murder indictment in the 1878 shooting death of Sheriff William Brady.
McGinn said Wallace told the Kid he had the authority "to exempt you from prosecution if you will testify to what you say you know."
The Kid kept his end of the bargain, but Wallace did not, she said.
J.P. Garrett told The Associated Press he believes Wallace never intended to follow through and never put a pardon in written form.
He told Witt that when the Kid was awaiting trial in Brady's killing, "he wrote four letters for aid, but never used the word pardon."
Garrett also contends Richardson should have designated an independent, impartial historian. He noted McGinn is married to Charles Daniels, whom Richardson appointed to the state Supreme Court. William Wallace said she has "meager qualifications" and a possible conflict of interest.
Garrett said the action suggests it's a facade to allow Richardson to grant an "illegal pardon."
McGinn said her only tie to the administration is that she volunteered to look into the issue for free, knowing Richardson's interest. She said he told her "he wasn't promising anything."
Her pardon request focuses on Brady's killing, and not on two deputies the Kid killed when he escaped from jail in April 1881 after being sentenced to hang for shooting Brady.
Garrett told McGinn people of the time lived in fear of the Kid.
"I don't believe a thief, a liar, a terrorizer of the ordinary people and a multiple cop killer should ever be granted a pardon," he wrote.
McGinn said the point is not who was killed, but whether a government has to keep its promise.
Witt said he appreciated Garrett's observations about "what was or was not said/promised/implied/insinuated regarding Wallace and Bonney."
"This is exactly why we seek input not just from the general public but also from folks who are much closer to this situation than the average person," Witt wrote Garrett.
Associated Press Writer Susan Montoya Bryan in Santa Fe, N.M., contributed to this report.