- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 2010

For notorious Wild West outlaw Billy the Kid, it looks like Christmas might yet come, just 129 years too late. And some are wondering why.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, has just a few days left in his second and final four-year term in office, and will spend some of it deciding whether to grant a petition to pardon Billy the Kid, who was born as Henry McCarty but also was known by the aliases Henry Antrim and William H. Bonney.

Mr. Richardson must make his decision about the legendary figures fate before midnight Dec. 31, when his time in office expires.

Some experts on executive pardon criticized Mr. Richardsons consideration of Billy the Kid’s case.


“It seems to me that the case demonstrates a kind of trivialization of the pardon power,” Margaret Love, a former U.S. pardon attorney who specializes in executive clemency, told The Washington Times. “It doesn’t bear any relationship to the needs of real people in the criminal justice system that I think governors should be addressing.”

Mr. Richardson acknowledged last week during an interview on CNN that he enjoyed the attention the issue was bringing - “I’m going to string it out a little bit,” he said - but added that he would not consider a “blanket pardon.”

“I’ve considered this for the last eight years,” he said Thursday. “I’m looking at all of the documentation. I’ve heard from people around the world. It’s about 52-48 in favor of the pardon.”

The governors office failed to return three voice messages from The Times.

Peter Ruckman Jr., a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Illinois who runs a blog called Pardon Power, said extending a pardon to Billy the Kid would be “wildly inappropriate,” and would degrade the power of a weighty gubernatorial power.

“I think a more appropriate thing about this would be an proclamation or something of that order,” Mr. Ruckman said. “I think pardons should be for living people.”

Randi McGinn, the lawyer and history buff who submitted the petition to the governors office, disagreed.

“If we dont learn from history, we continue to relive our mistakes,” Ms. McGinn said. “The power to pardon is absolute, and it applies to people who are both currently alive and currently dead.”

While Billy the Kid is thought to be responsible for up to nine deaths at the time of the Lincoln County War, he was only convicted of one - the death of Sheriff William Brady. The outlaw, whose fame mostly came after his death, was fatally shot by Pat Garrett in 1881 before he could stand trial for two additional killings.

According to Mr. Richardsons office, granting clemency would compensate for an unfulfilled pardon promise from Lew Wallace, the governor of New Mexico Territory in the late 1800s.

The Associated Press reported, however, that descendents of Wallace and Garrett contend that the governor never offered a pardon and are furious over the possibility of the Kids rehabilitation.

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