Monday, September 04, 2023

Bill Richardson And A Fitting Pardon for Billy the Kid

 September 4, 2023

   Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, has passed at age 75. And, although all of the obits have been very positive I have noticed that none of them, so far, has mentioned his involvement in his efforts of getting a pardon for Billy the Kid.

   So, I asked The Top Secret Writer to give us his view of the savvy politician and supreme hostage negotiator:

A Fitting Pardon for Billy The Kid

   "Bill Richardson was a larger than life character who dominated every room he was in. He had an infectious smile and warm personality, but could also be a tough and pragmatic politician. When I lived in Santa Fe for a decade he was my congressman--and a good one. He was certainly by far the most impressive and productive governor (along with Bruce King who preceded him and was sort of a liberal John Wayne) that New Mexico has had in my 40 years living here. His eyes must have lit up when he saw that front page New York Times story on the three sheriffs who were reopening the investigation into Billy the Kid. He had presidential ambitions and this was some tasty low hanging fruit. So I was called in to be his historian point man (for free of course) on the case. We had a big news conference and plans were put in motion to dig up Billy to make sure it was really he that Garrett had shot. Richardson was going to consider a pardon for The Kid and some high powered lawyers were brought in to make a case for a pardon. More headlines.We got lots of publicity around the world, but it caused a firestorm in Fort Sumner (what if Billy wasn't in the grave and they lost their tourist draw). We also got blowback from Richardson's political opponents as well as the predictable media hounds (was state money being used for this!?). 
   "I was working with Bill Kurtis at the time on a History Channel series Investigating History so I was promptly at work on a Billy the Kid episode that featured Richardson prominently. He loved doing the show and hanging out with Bill Kurtis (who was another larger than life character).
   "As his presidential campaign heated up Governor Richardson decided that pardoning a cop killer was probably not a smart political move. So no grave excavation and no pardon. And the governor's Democratic primary campaign (and chance for a VP bid from Obama) was derailed by some of his New Mexico financial and sexual shenanigans. He moved on, of course, to a career as a free-lance diplomat and hostage negotiator on the world stage where he garnered impressive results.
   "Bill Richardson made a positive difference in New Mexico and the world, and it was a distinct pleasure for me to have brushed up against him. Peace to his ashes." 
—Paul Andrew Hutton

   Someone else who wrote about the pardon with some style and aplomb, was this guy:

   "It wasn't official that Richardson was thinking of re-visiting the pardon when I wrote the op-ed back in 2010. However, Richardson had asked a journalist friend to send some feelers out to a few Kid people to get their reaction to the idea. I was one of the individuals copied on the email. You'll note that I say in the op-ed that Richardson was 'reportedly' considering a posthumous pardon. They wanted to keep things quiet about it, but, you know, it was simply too good a story to keep a lid on. And, oddly enough, I just happened to have a new book out on the Kid and Garrett....
   "The op-ed editor at the LA Times liked the piece I submitted, but she pointed out that I hadn't offered an opinion on whether or not Richardson should pardon the Kid. She gently reminded me that that was the whole point of an op-ed! So, I revised my piece to come down of the side of 'a deal is a deal, and 129 years doesn't change that.'"
—Mark Lee Gardner, author of "To Hell On A Fast Horse"

   And, I might add, that is still true to this day.

"A deal is a deal, and 142 years doesn't change that."
—Mark Lee Gardner

So Why Did Richardson Decline the Pardon?
"It was a very close call. I've been working on this for eight years. And while the romanticism appealed to me to issue a pardon. . .the facts and the evidence did not support it. In the end, William Henry Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, may have been a multi-named marquee draw for the state of New Mexico, but he was also a murderer. Although I had begun this process in part because I thought it would be 'fun,'. . . pardons are serious business. History is serious business. If one is to rewrite a chapter as prominent as this there had better be certainty to the facts, the circumstances, and the motivations of those involved. . .The point is I don't know for sure. No one does. . . Therefore I am not in a position at the time to issue a pardon for Billy the Kid. History lives on."
—Bill Richardson, in his book, "How to Sweet-Talk A Shark," (2013) adding "you can add a dead gunslinger to the list of famous people I've negotiated with."

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