After 130 years, will Billy the Kid finally get a governor's pardon?
Outgoing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is considering a pardon for celebrated outlaw Billy the Kid. An informal e-mail poll shows support. But time is running out.
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In 2000, Richardson assembled a team of scholars, including Mr. Hutton, to investigate competing claims to Billy the Kid’s identity. An effort to dig up the remains of a woman thought to be his mother for DNA sampling created a public outcry and Richardson abandoned the effort to concentrate on his presidential campaign.Skip to next paragraph
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He is returning to this issue just a few days from leaving office. Historians say documents show Billy the Kid was promised a pardon by Lew Wallace, then the state governor, in exchange for testimony the Kid gave against the three men who killed a one-armed lawyer during the Lincoln County wars.
The petition to pardon the Kid, filed by Albuquerque attorney Randi McGinn, quotes an exchange of letters between the Kid and Mr. Wallace in which the governor tells him, “In return for your doing this, I will let you go scot [sic] free with a pardon in your pocket for all your misdeeds.”
Hutton says most historians agree that Billy the Kid’s life was not as violent as the legend suggests and that he was a product of his unwieldy times of government corruption and vigilante justice.
“He certainly felt solving problems with a gun was the way to go, but that was the world in which he lived in,” he says. “The forces of authority in 1877 New Mexico were nothing to brag about.”
Whether or not Richardson will decide in favor of the Kid remains to be seen, although the state website specifies that any decision will be confined to the pardon owed to him and nothing more.
“Any decision will be made in light of the explicit concern as to whether one of [Richardson’s] predecessors as governor committed the state of New Mexico to a specific act, and whether that pledge was upheld,” he states.
Hutton says the historic ramification of a pardon will simply be “a state recognition that the Kid was wronged, which he actually was.”
However, others suggest the decision will do nothing to re-frame how the Old West is perceived, truthfully or otherwise.