New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and his wife Vesta, shown during a Washington visit May 19, 2010.2010. UPI/Alexis C. Glenn | License Photo
SANTA FE, N.M., Dec. 31 (UPI) -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, on his final day in office Friday, did not pardon legendary outlaw Billy the Kid.
"It was a very close call," Richardson said from his office in Santa Fe when announcing he "decided not to pardon Billy the Kid," one of New Mexico's more infamous native sons, on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Richardson said his decision was based in part on ambiguity surrounding the record in which territorial Gov. Lew Wallace agreed to pardon Billy the Kid -- real name Henry McCarty but also known as Henry Antrim and William H. Bonney -- in exchange for the outlaw's testimony in a range war killing, but later reneged on his promise.
Billy the Kid testified but "Wallace didn't keep his end of the bargain," Richardson said, and the criminal, romanticized by oral tradition and Hollywood, later shot and killed two deputies.
Despite the near-affection surrounding the outlaw and pleas for a pardon, Richardson said the "facts and evidence didn't support" it.
Richardson said a decision about Billy the Kid's fate in this matter was important because "this is America's history" and the issue has festered since 1881.
Legend says Billy the Kid killed 21 men but it is generally accepted that he killed between four and nine before he was shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett at the age of 21.
Richardson said he spoke to Garrett's descendants, who opposed the pardon.
"It's living history … we should not neglect," he said.