Ethics Dunce: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson

From the “What was he thinking?” files:

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson says that he is considering whether to pardon Henry McCarty, a.k.a. William Bonney, a.k.a. Billy the Kid (1859-1871), because in 1879 one of Richardson’s predecessors, Gen. Lew Wallace (who, among other things, presided over the trial of the Lincoln conspirators, headed the military tribunal that condemned the Confederate commandant of the infamous Andersonville prison camp, and wrote Ben-Hur,)  reneged on a deal to grant Billy amnesty in exchange for some helpful grand jury testimony in the prosecution of vigilantes.

Of course, when Billy didn’t receive his pay-off quickly enough, he escaped from jail and killed two deputies in the process. He was that kind of guy.

Even the most sympathetic sources agree that Bonney killed four men and was involved in the killing of at least six others.  Richardson’s belief that making good on a broken promise made 130 years ago by a governor of the New Mexico territory that took place before the Kid murdered two law enforcement officers makes no sense in law or ethics, and can only be seen as a political stunt. According to New Mexico news sources, Richardson has been asking historians what they think of the idea.

He shouldn’t care what they think of the idea. (One of them, at least, is sensible: historian Drew Gomber told the El Paso Times that the pardon news is nothing more than a publicity stunt by the governor, saying, “There is no point in restoring the civil rights of a dead man.) Pardoning famous murderers without a really compelling reason, such as solid proof that they were innocent, trivializes violence and uses the passage of time as an excuse to  show disrespect to the murderer’s victims and their families. “If Billy the Kid was living amongst us now, would you issue a pardon for someone who made his living as a thief and, more egregiously, who killed four law enforcement officers and numerous others?” the relatives of sheriff Pat Garrett, who shot the Kid, wrote Richardson.

Good point. It is true that Billy the Kid was never duly convicted of murder in a court of law, but neither were John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Bonny and Clyde, Al Capone, Vlad the Impaler and Jack the Ripper, any of whom might be next in line for a Richardson pardon for all we know.

One would think that in these difficult times, a Governor would have more pressing concerns than burnishing the reputation of a long-dead and murderous outlaw, even if he was once played by Paul Newman.

Guess not.

2 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson

  1. Jack, some earlier news stories I had read about Richardson’s possible pardoning of Billy the Kid stated that the Governor’s office had denied that a pardon was in the works. Has that changed, and the Governor now says that he is in fact considering a pardon? (Or were those news reports in error?) Or, has the Governor been playing the political game of floating trial balloons? I mean, asking about the advisability of pardoning the Kid is not, technically, the same as saying he’s planning to do it.

    • It was apparently a trial balloon, hence the note that he was consulting with historians. Even if he had been planning to do it, presumably the near unanimous “”What an idiot!” response the idea got would have made him say, “I never was certain it was the right thing to do.”

      Richardson is a really slimy politician.

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