Image: This reproduction of a circa 1880
AFP - Getty Images file
This reproduction of a circa 1880 photograph from the Library of Congress shows the infamous 19th century Wild West outlaw Billy the Kid, who could yet get an official pardon from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
updated 12/16/2010 7:24:08 PM ET 2010-12-17T00:24:08

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson says he's received a formal petition to pardon legendary gunslinger Billy the Kid, and will make a decision on it before he leaves office at the end of the year.

Richardson has set up a website and e-mail address where the public can weigh in on the issue. He is accepting written comments until Dec. 26.

Some believe then-Territorial Gov. Lew Wallace promised the Kid a pardon in return for his testimony in a murder trial.

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Albuquerque trial Attorney Randi McGinn submitted a petition for a pardon on Tuesday after reviewing documents to see if there was a basis for the matter to be considered.

Billy the Kid, whose real name was William Bonney, had written Wallace, volunteering to testify at the murder trial of three men, if Wallace would annul pending charges against him, including an indictment for murder in the 1878 shooting death of Sheriff William Brady.

McGinn said Wallace told the Kid he had the authority "to exempt you from prosecution if you will testify to what you say you know."

The Kid kept his end of the bargain, but Wallace did not, McGinn said in an attachment to her petition.

"It seems to me that when the government makes a deal with you, it should keep its promise," she said Thursday.

McGinn comes from Alamogordo, near the Lincoln County stomping grounds of Billy the Kid, and had heard stories about him all her life. Despite that background, she said she'd never heard about a pardon being offered.

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She knew Richardson was interested in the issue, and she volunteered to research it for free.

"He said I could look into it but he wasn't promising anything," McGinn said.

She spent six months talking to people, looking at historical records and "reading every book I can find on Billy the Kid."

Her attachment gives a brief history of the Lincoln County War, during which Brady and the Kid were on opposite sides.

The requested pardon focuses on the Brady killing, and not the deaths of two deputies the Kid killed when he escaped from jail in April 1881 after being convicted of shooting Brady.

"I wouldn't file the petition if I didn't think the promise should be enforced on this one issue," McGinn said.

The Kid was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in July 1881.

McGinn also said she's interested in how people feel about the matter. Where she comes from, she said, there still are people on Garrett's side and people who support Billy the Kid.

Richardson has said he's heard from numerous people over the years who believe the pardon issue should be reviewed. Others, however, have told him they don't believe he should pardon the Kid. Among those against a pardon is William N. Wallace, a great-grandson of Lew Wallace.

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