ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The rehabilitation of Billy the Kid lies dead in the dust.
In one of his last official acts — or nonacts — before leaving office, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson refused to pardon the Old West outlaw Friday for one of the many murders he committed before he was gunned down in 1881. 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 Gov. 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."
The outgoing governor said he could not pardon Billy the Kid given that ambiguity and the fact that 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.
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.
Albuquerque lawyer Randi McGinn, who petitioned for a pardon after studying the issue, said she won the battle in proving there was a promise but lost the war over the pardon. She said, however, she didn't regret "one iota being Billy the Kid's lawyer."