March 25, 2009 in City

Paleontologist to plead guilty to stealing fossils from BLM land

Associated Press
 
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Nathan Murphy, pictured in July 2005, is set to plead guilty to stealing fossils from federal land.
(Full-size photo)

HELENA – A U.S. magistrate in Great Falls has set an April 14 hearing for paleontologist Nathan Murphy to plead guilty to stealing fossils from federal land.

The plea agreement in Murphy’s case was filed late Monday in U.S. District Court.

Under the agreement, Murphy, 51, will acknowledge taking more than a dozen fossilized dinosaur bones from Bureau of Land Management land near Malta, Mont., between August 2006 and August 2007.

The federal offer of proof notes that Murphy was caught excavating fossils from BLM land without a permit in 1994 at a site less than 1,000 feet from dig sites in the recent case. No charges were filed in the 1994 case.

Murphy, a self-taught dinosaur expert who helped find one of the world’s best-preserved dinosaurs, has already pleaded guilty to state charges that he stole a raptor fossil from private land near Malta. Sentencing in the state case is scheduled for May 27.

Murphy’s attorney, Michael Moses of Billings, declined comment Tuesday. He has said Murphy is anxious to tell his side of the story, but that will have to wait until after the plea agreement is accepted.

Murphy runs a paleo-outfitting business that takes paying customers on dinosaur excavation expeditions. He was director of paleontology at the Dinosaur Field Station in Malta for 15 years before resigning in July 2007.

Federal prosecutors said Murphy led paying customers onto BLM land in August 2006, where fossils were removed from two sites. The fossils’ estimated value was $3,100.

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