New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said on Thursday he was reviewing a pardon petition based on the widespread belief that New Mexico territorial Governor Lew Wallace promised the 19th century gunman a pardon in exchange for his testimony in a murder trial.
"As someone who is fascinated with New Mexico's rich history, I've always been intrigued by the story of Billy the Kid and, in particular, the alleged promise of a pardon he was given," Richardson said in a statement.
"I will diligently review this new petition and all the facts available regarding an agreement between Billy the Kid and Governor Wallace before rendering any decision," Richardson said, adding he would decide by the end of the year.
The two-term Democratic governor, who leaves office at the end of the month, asked historians and others to weigh in with their opinions on a website dedicated to the issue, here
Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid to death at point-blank range in 1881. Newspapers had already turned the young outlaw, whose real name was Henry McCarty, into a larger-than-life figure by the time of his death in his early 20s. A book by Garrett transformed McCarty into a legendary figure of America's western frontier. He has since become the subject of many songs, films and books.
Richardson received various pardon requests over the years from McCarty's descendants, but this was the first formal petition he received in the matter.
It was presented by trial attorney and western history buff Randi McGinn, who was designated to study the documents of that era to determine whether there was sufficient basis for a pardon to be seriously considered.
The petition she submitted on Tuesday "is narrow in scope and does not argue for a blanket pardon of all of Billy the Kid's activities," a statement from Richardson's office said.