Billy the Kid pardon angers family of the sheriff who shot him

A vintage photograph of outlaw Billy the Kid

A pardon promised to Billy the Kid nearly 130 years ago is being reconsidered by New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Billy the Kid was shot dead by lawman Pat Garrett, who put an end to the outlaw’s murderous career on July 14, 1881. Nearly 130 years later, governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico has supposedly considered granting a pardon that was promised to Billy the Kid by New Mexico’s governor before he was gunned down by Garrett. News of Richardson’s potential pardon of Billy the Kid angered Garrett’s descendants, who are calling it an insult and defamation of their ancestor.

The Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett saga

The Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett saga began when the outlaw was apprehended by Garrett for the murder of a county sheriff in 1879. The Los Angeles Times reports that while he awaited his trial in the Santa Fe jail, New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace offered the outlaw, whose real name was William Bonney, a pardon if he testified before a grand jury investigating another murder. Billy the Kid came through, but the governor didn’t. Billy was tried, convicted and sentenced to die. When it was time to transport him to another town for his hanging, Billy the Kid murdered two deputies and escaped. A few months later Garrett tracked him down and shot Billy in bed.

Did Pat Garrett kill Billy the Kid?

Billy the Kid’s pardon resurfaced earlier this year when Richardson asked a New Mexico columnist to check with historians to see whether they would support issuing a pardon. The Associated Press reports that the governor once offered state resources to examine whether Garrett killed Billy the Kid and not an innocent man. Skeptics believe Billy the Kid might have lived in Texas until 1950, using the name “Brushy Bill” Roberts. Richardson even appointed a Santa Fe lawyer to represent the late outlaw, saying he wanted to clear up the matter once and for all.

Bill Richardson’s New Mexico publicity stunt

Richardson’s interest in Billy the Kid’s pardon prompted an angry reaction from Garrett’s family. The El Paso Times reports that in a letter to Richardson, the Garretts said the governor had created his own version of the facts that have clouded history and damaged the old sheriff’s reputation. “The history of New Mexico has been permanently disfigured by the element of doubt alone,” the Garretts said. Various historians agree, saying there is no need for Richardson to grant a pardon to one of the old west’s most notorious outlaws. “There is no point in restoring the civil rights of a dead man,” historian Drew Gomber told the El Paso Times. “It’s a publicity stunt by the governor.”

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