JUST IN: Facing a firestorm of controversy with the prospect of settling a 130-year case by pardoning Billy the Kid, departing New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson backed down. The pressure from history buffs, including from descendants of Billy’s killer, Sheriff Pat Garrett, was way too much and, in the end, Richardson concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to justify a governor’s pardon just yet.
Legend has it that Billy killed anywhere from eight to 22 people before he was captured and shot in 1881 by Garrett. While in jail, he was offered a deal by then Governor Lew Wallace to go free in exchange for testifying in court. He kept his side of the bargain until the moment it became clear the state wouldn’t hold its end. Billy, then escaped and shot dead two law enforcement deputies, the crime that, once again, prevented a final reconciliation between his legendary status as a folk hero and a clean name in the court books.
Pat Garrett Family
Almost 130 years after the Sheriff of Lincoln County killed The Kid, descendants of the iconic figures of the Old West are still battling to protect their legacies. Garrett’s family, along with those related to Sheriff William Brady, who was shot by the outlawed in 1878, invoke his reputation as a cop killer and a thief to fight any attempt to officially pardon him.
For those on The Kid’s side, there are historical documents showing that then Governor Lew Wallace promised him clemency in exchange for his testimony to a grand jury, which he gave. The pardon, though, was never granted, and the impulsive gunslinger escaped once more, only to be hunted down, caught and killed in 1881.
Richardson, a history buff on his own right, thoroughly reviewed the case only to get quite an earful from the families of Garrett, Billy, who also used the names Henry McCarty and William H. Bonney, and relatives of other victims of his.
The showdown between the sheriff and the gunslinger still stirs passions, so many years later, but it extrapolates the classic framework of law and order battling crime and chaos. If nothing else, historical records of the period are scarce, and many still come out of the woodwork invoking dubious kinship and less than sound oral recollections of the case.
At the end of the day, the benefits of having the spotlight on the state far surpass anything to do with setting those old scores straight. So Garrett will forever play the champion of the law, the badge-wearing avenger, battling the romanticized folk hero, The Kid who died young, betrayed by his one-time act of trust.