January 1, 2011
The rehabilitation of Billy the Kid lies dead in the dust.
In one of his last official acts — or non-acts — before leaving office, New Mexico's governor refused to pardon the Old West outlaw Friday for one of the many murders he committed before he was gunned down in 1881.
Gov. Bill Richardson cited ambiguity surrounding the pledge of a pardon 130 years ago as the reason.
"I felt I could not rewrite history," Richardson told The Associated Press, hours after announcing his decision on ABC's "Good Morning America" on his last day in office.
The prospect of a pardon for the notorious frontier figure drew international attention to New Mexico, centering on whether New Mexico territorial governor Lew Wallace promised Billy the Kid a pardon in return for testifying about killings he witnessed.
Richardson concluded Wallace did make a deal, "but it's uncertain why he did not keep his promise," said the former U.N. ambassador and Democratic presidential candidate.
He said he could not pardon Billy the Kid given that ambiguity and the fact he killed two deputies when he escaped in April 1881 from the Lincoln County jail, where he was awaiting hanging for the 1878 killing of Sheriff William Brady.
A pardon document was even drafted, "but in the end, I didn't use it," said Richardson, adding that he didn't decide until Thursday night.
The proposed pardon covered only the killing of Brady, and not the deaths of the deputies or any other killings. According to legend, Billy the Kid killed 21 people, although the New Mexico Tourism Department puts the total closer to nine.
He was shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett in July 1881.
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