SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – 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 to 1881.
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 'pardon.'"
William Wallace said his ancestor never promised a pardon and that pardoning the Kid "would declare Lew Wallace to have been a dishonorable liar."
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 you know."
"It seems to me that when the government makes a deal with you, it should keep its promise," McGinn said after filing the request.