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Should Billy The Kid Be Pardoned?

December 28, 2010

The majority of people say that they are in favor of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson pardoning Billy the Kid.

Richardson’s office has received 809 emails and letters in the survey that ended on Sunday, with 430 arguing for the pardon and 370 opposing it.

The office created a website in mid-December after Albuquerque attorney Randi McGinn petitioned for a pardon, contending New Mexico Territorial Governor Lew Wallace promised one in return for the Kid’s testimony in a murder case against three men.

Richardson term ends December 31, 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 The Associated Press (AP) last week.

Billy the Kid was shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett in July 1881, a few months after escaping from the Lincoln Country 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 offered to look into the issue this summer.  She petitioned for a pardon on December 14 after reviewing historical documents and other material.

Richardson’s deputy chief of staff, Eric Witt, told AP that emails debating the issue came from all over the U.S.

“This has clearly generated a lot of interest globally,” Witt said.

He said that responses 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 said that circumstantial evidence points toward Wallace offering a pardon and said it was not implausible since Wallace pardoned other people that were involved in the Lincoln County War.  Witt said that others questioned why Richardson would consider pardoning “a cop killer.”

McGinn said the point is not who was killed, but whether a government has to keep its promise.

Among those opposing a pardon are Garett’s grandson J.P. Garrett, of Albuquerque, and Wallace’s great-grandson William Wallace.

Garrett said that there is no proof 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.”

William Wallace said his ancestor never promised a pardon, so pardoning the Kid “would declare Lew Wallace to have been a dishonorable liar.”

The Kid wrote to Wallace in 1879 saying that he would testify in the murder case if Wallace would annul pending charges against him, including the Brady indictment.

McGinn said Wallace responded that 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 deal but Wallace did not.

Garrett said that there is no written proof Wallace offered a pardon.

He also said that the Kid was waiting for trial in Brandy’s killing when “he wrote four letters for aid, but never used the word pardon.”

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