- Associated Press - Friday, December 31, 2010

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Billy the Kid, the Old West outlaw who killed at least three lawmen and tried to cut a deal from jail with territorial authorities, won’t be pardoned, Gov. Bill Richardson said Friday, nearly 130 years after the gunslinger’s death.

The prospect of a pardon for the notorious frontier figure drew international attention to New Mexico, centering on whether Billy the Kid had been promised a pardon from New Mexico’s territorial governor in return for testimony in killings he had witnessed.

But the facts of the case didn’t support a pardon, Mr. Richardson said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He had been formally petitioned to grant one.

The proposed pardon covered the 1878 killing of Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady. Billy the Kid was shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881, a few months after escaping from the jail.

According to legend, Billy the Kid killed 21 people, one for each year of his life. But the New Mexico Tourism Department puts the total closer to nine.

Mr. Richardson, the former U.N. ambassador and Democratic presidential candidate, waited until the last minute to announce his decision. His term ends at midnight Friday.

The historical record on the pardon is unclear, and Richardson staff members told him in August there are no written documents “pertaining in any way” to a pardon in the papers of the territorial governor, Lew Wallace, who served in office from 1878 to 1881.

Mr. Richardson said he decided against a pardon “because of a lack of conclusiveness and the historical ambiguity as to why Gov. Wallace reneged on his promise.”

Sheriff Pat Garrett’s grandson J.P. Garrett and Wallace’s great-grandson William Wallace expressed outrage over a pardon after Mr. Richardson set up a website in mid-December to hear from the public.

The website was established after Albuquerque attorney Randi McGinn submitted a formal petition for a pardon. Mr. Richardson’s successor has criticized him for considering the pardon.

“We should not neglect the historical record and the history of the American West,” Mr. Richardson said.

His office received 809 e-mails and letters in the survey that ended Sunday, with 430 favoring a pardon and 379 opposed. Comments came from all over the world.

Ms. McGinn argued that Lew Wallace promised to pardon the Kid, also known as William Bonney or Henry McCarty.

She said the Kid kept his end of the bargain, but the territorial governor did not.

The Kid was a ranch hand and gunslinger in the bloody Lincoln County War, a feud between factions vying to dominate the dry goods business and cattle trading in southern New Mexico.

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