On this date in crime history – April 9, 1881, outlaw Billy the Kid was found guilty of murdering the sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico and sentenced to death. There is no doubt that Billy the Kid did indeed shoot the sheriff, though he had done so in the context of the bloody Lincoln County War, a battle between two powerful groups of ranchers fighting for economic control of Lincoln County. When his boss, rancher John Tunstall, was murdered in February 1878, the hotheaded Billy swore vengeance. Unfortunately, the leader of the men who murdered Tunstall was the sheriff of Lincoln County, William Brady. When Billy and his partners murdered the Brady, they became outlaws, regardless of how corrupt the sheriff had been. After three years on the run and several other murders, Pat Garrett finally arrested Billy in early 1881. Garrett, a one-time friend, was the new sheriff of Lincoln County. On this day in 1881, a court took only one day to convict Billy of the murder of Sheriff Brady. On April 28, while Garrett was out of town, Billy managed to escape from jail. While one of the jail's guards was escorting a group of prisoners across the street to dinner, Billy asked the remaining guard to take him to the jail outhouse. As the guard escorted him back to his cell, Billy somehow managed to slip a wrist through his handcuffs. He slugged the guard and shot him with a pistol either that he took from the guard or that a friend had hidden in the outhouse for him. Hearing the shot, the second guard ran back to the jail, and Billy killed him with a blast from a shotgun he found in Garrett's office. Upon his return to Lincoln, Garrett immediately formed a posse and set off to recapture the outlaw. On July 14, 1881, Garrett surprised Billy in a darkened room not far from Lincoln and shot him dead.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of numerous books that include the award winning, Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949 (2012, Schiffer Publishing). The WINNER of the 2012 International Book Awards and a FINALIST in the 2012 Indie Excellence Book Awards for True Crime. Visit the authors website for more information: www.michaelthomasbarry.com
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