On January 19, 1896, Governor William A Richards pardoned a convicted horse rustler named George Cassidy.
Governor Richards may have been influenced in no small part by a lengthy letter by District Court Judge Jesse Knight. In the letter, Knight lays out the details of Cassidy’s trial in 1892, as well as his reasoning behind the rather light sentence of two years. He asks Richards to consider pardoning Cassidy in good faith so that he may have the chance to become an upstanding citizen and possibly encourage his associates to do the same.
Cassiday [sic] is a man that would be hard to describe — a brave, daring fellow and a man well calculated to be a leader, and should his inclinations run that way, I do not doubt but that he would be capable of organizing and leading a lot of desperate men to desperate deeds.
Cassidy learned, before the verdict was made public or returned by the jury, that he had been found guilty, and he was offered horses and a means by which he could have made his escape, but at that time he said he believed Judge Knight was an honest man and would not be governed by the wishes of those whom he believed were persecuting him instead of prosecuting him, and that he should stay and take his sentence… [Cassidy] wrote me a note saying that he had no cause to complain, that he had received justice and thanked me for having given him a fair trail.
At the time of sentencing Cassiday [sic], I talked to him a long time. While he had made the statement at the time I was about to pass sentence upon him that he was innocent and had been convicted on perjured evidence and bought testimony, I told him that I believed that he was not only guilty of the larceny of the horse for which he had been tried, but I believed that he was guilty of the larceny of the horse upon the charge of which he was acquitted the term before. I told him that I believed he was a man calculated to be a leader and that… if he was sentenced to a reasonable term of imprisonment, such as his better judgement would surely say he deserved, he was more likely to return to Fremont County and say to his former associates that… it was better to be honest than dishonest.
If on the other hand, you should agree with Sheriff Ward and myself that possibly good might be accomplished by his earlier release, I would be glad to assume a part of the responsibility.
Despite Governor Richards and Hon. Knight’s good intentions, Cassidy returned to his life of crime and went on to become one of the most infamous criminals in the American West.