August 5, 2005 in Nation/World

Bill of Rights copy given back to state

Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. – An original copy of the Bill of Rights that was given to North Carolina by George Washington in 1789 was returned to the state Thursday, culminating a bitter legal tug-of-war over the document.

Gov. Mike Easley accepted the document at a brief ceremony in the capitol after a judge ordered federal marshals to turn it over to the state.

“I am pleased to accept this document on behalf of the state and look forward to having a grand celebration when we make it available to citizens and school children across North Carolina,” Easley said in a statement.

After disappearing during the federal occupation of the state during the Civil War, the Bill of Rights resurfaced in 2000 when Robert V. Matthews and his partner, antiques dealer Wayne Pratt, worked out a deal to buy the paper from two Connecticut women for $200,000.

Later, an agent posing as a museum buyer pretended to purchase the document from Matthews and Pratt for $5 million, then presented a seizure warrant from a federal judge.

Pratt is not opposing the government and has agreed to donate the document to North Carolina. Matthews continues to claim partial ownership of the paper, which has been valued at up to $40 million.

Easley said the Bill of Rights will be displayed in the state Museum of History.

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