In 2003, New Mexico's Gov. Bill Richardson made international news when he announced that he would consider making good on a promise made to outlaw Billy the Kid by a former governor way back in 1879. That former governor, Lew Wallace (of Ben Hur fame), had offered the Kid amnesty from prosecution (some argue a pardon) for his role in the killing of a Lincoln County sheriff in exchange for the Kid's testimony in another murder case. Richardson's announcement came in the midst of a headline-grabbing forensic investigation looking into the circumstances of the Kid's 1881 death. But as the hoopla over the investigation subsided, so did the talk of Billy's pardon.
Then, in the spring of 2010, Richardson's final year in office, the governor reached out to a select group of Kid buffs and historians, letting them know that he wished to revisit the pardon issue before his term expired. Mark broke the story nationally in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on
July 14, 2010, and the media, both national and international, soon became fixated on the possible pardon for the Old West's most iconic -- and, for many, beloved -- outlaw. For months, Richardson remained coy, but on December 16 he announced that he had received a petition requesting a posthumous pardon for the Kid and that he would make a decision before leaving office. The pardon for William H. Bonney became one of the biggest, and more controversial, stories of 2010. Richardson finally announced his decision live on Good Morning America on December 31: Billy would not receive a pardon. Richardson later explained that, "While I believe Governor Wallace did promise the Kid a pardon and the Kid did keep his end of the deal, I don't know exactly why the pardon was never granted."
Although Billy did not get his pardon, western history got a huge shot in the arm, with readers and television viewers around the world learning about Billy the Kid, Sheriff Pat Garrett, and the violence and corruption that once permeated New Mexico Territory. Billy's portrait actually appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. As a biographer of Billy the Kid, Mark was in great demand by the media. He was interviewed by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, CNN, BBC, New Zealand Radio, Northern Ireland BBC, PRI, and ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. Again and again, he was asked whether or not Billy deserved a pardon. Find out Mark's answer in the links below.
August 2, 2010: Mark appeared on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer
discussing the controversy surrounding a possible gubernatorial pardon
for Billy the Kid. Watch the segment and read the article here.
August 6, 2010: Mark was quoted by CNN. Read the story here.
August 16, 2010: Mark was quoted in the New York Times. Read the article here.
August 17, 2010: Mark was quoted by New West. Read the story here.
December 30, 2010: Mark was quoted in the Wall Street Journal. Read the article here.
Listen to Mark discuss the Billy the Kid pardon controversy on The Takeaway, the national radio news show produced by PRI, WNYC, and the New York Times.
Friday, December 31, 2010: Mark was again quoted in the Wall Street Journal. Read the story here.
January 2, 2011: Mark was interviewed by the Washington Times. Read the story here.
New Evidence of a Pardon Promise: During
the last week of December, 2010, as the debate over the posthumous pardon
became more heated and intense, Mark made an incredible discovery of an
interview with Governor Lew Wallace from May, 1881, in which Wallace
related the terms of his pardon deal with Billy the Kid. This
interview, previously unknown to historians, adds interesting details to
what we know about this controversial episode in New Mexico history, as
well as to the relationship between Wallace and the Kid. The story
appeared in the May 16, 1881, issue of the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat. Read the story from the original newspaper page by clicking here.
And, of course, see Mark's book, To Hell on a Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, now available in paperback from Harper.