Stateline Story

A Pardon For Billy the Kid?

Outgoing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is mulling whether to grant a pardon to Billy the Kid, the outlaw convicted of murdering a sheriff in 1878. The potential pardon has ignited a debate on this chapter of frontier history, with supporters saying state authorities reneged on a deal struck with Billy the Kid — also known as William H. Bonney — and opponents arguing that a pardon would sully the memories of the lawmen who tracked him down.

An unofficial poll set up by the governor's office found public support for the pardon, according to the Associated Press, with 430 respondents in favor and 379 opposed.

Pardons are a traditional goodwill gesture from departing governors but few involve convicts who died more than a century ago. Richardson, a Western history buff, first started considering a pardon for Bonney after receiving a petition from Albuquerque attorney Randi McGinn this month, according to the Los Angeles Times .

Billy the Kid was convicted of killing Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady in 1878 but the territorial governor of New Mexico, Lew Wallace, offered him a pardon if he testified in a separate murder case. The Kid agreed but was never pardoned. He escaped from prison in 1881 and killed two deputies before he was tracked down and killed on July 14, 1881.

McGinn told the Times her petition was "only to enforce one promise the governor made."

Wallace's great grandson, however, opposes the pardon. William N. Wallace said a pardon would portray the former governor as a "dishonorable liar."

Richardson has until Friday night to make up his mind. His successor, Susana Martinez, says she has better things to do with her time than argue about frontier-era outlaws.