As Bob Dylan sang, "Billy, they don't like you to be so free." New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Friday he will not pardon the legendary Wild West outlaw William Bonney -- better known as Billy the Kid -- because the historical record about another governor's promise to do so is ambiguous.
"It was a very close call," Richardson told ABC's "Good Morning America." "I've been working on this for eight years." Descendants of Sheriff Pat Garrett, the lawman who gunned down Billy the Kid in Lincoln County, New Mexico, in 1881, had lobbied against the pardon and Richardson, who was clearly intrigued by the notion, said he would let the historical record stand.
On his last day in office as governor, the 2008 presidential candidate said it just wasn't clear why onetime New Mexico Gov. Lew Wallace apparently backed off a promise to pardon the Kid in exchange for testimony he gave about a killing he'd witnessed. Some historians argue that Wallace never explicitly promised the pardon and that he told a newspaper, "I can't see how a fellow like him should expect any clemency from me," the New York Times reported.
Richardson, a history buff, considered pardoning Billy the Kid for the murder of another lawman, Sheriff Bill Brady. He said he was convinced that Wallace had in fact offered the pardon in 1879. "However, there is enough historical ambiguity as to why Gov. Wallace did not provide reasons for backing off the deal."
Legend has it that Bonney, also known as Kid Antrim and Henry McCarty, killed 21 men before he reached the age of 21. Historians say the true count was somewhere between four and eight -- bad enough -- and his victims included two deputies that he shot in a daring escape from jail in 1881. Garrett tracked the 21-year-old Bonney down and shot him to death, but Billy the Kid lived on in folklore. Dylan's 1973 song "Billy" is one of a number of folk-style ballads about the Kid's exploits. "It's 21 men that I've put bullets through," one traditional song quotes Billy as boasting, "and Sheriff Pat Garrett's gonna make 22."
Watch Gov. Richardson announce his decision on ABC:
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