Well-known American Palaeontologist Sentenced after Court Case

Nathan Murphy, a self-taught palaeontologist from Montana was sentenced on Wednesday to three years probation, having been found guilty of stealing fossils from Government land.  He was convicted of stealing 13 dinosaur bones from the Hell Creek Formation in 2006, earlier this year he was sentenced to 60 days imprisonment for the theft of a Dromaeosaur fossil.  He had claimed that this specimen was his own find and Mr Murphy had wanted to sell copies and casts of this particular fossil to museums.  The judge also ordered him to pay over $17,000 in restitution.

He had already pleaded guilty to charges and we covered this case in previous blog articles, an insight into the shady and murky world of black market fossil sales.

To read the earlier articles:

First article: Local Fossil Collector Charged with Theft

Second article on the Nathan Murphy charges: Guilty Plea in Montana Dinosaur Theft Case

The case has severely damaged the reputation of the 51-year old, who has been responsible for finding a number of important specimens in the Montana strata.

Notwithstanding the fact that Mr Murphy sought financial gain my having casts made from at least one stolen fossil, Murphy says the fossils themselves were never at risk and were later turned over to a not-for-profit foundation.

Mr Murphy’s lawyer, Michael Moses commented:

“This case is a lesson well learned, Mr Murphy’s reputation and status within the palaeontological community has been severely affected”.

Nathan Murphy runs a company charging tourists to take part in dinosaur excavations, he was also a director of a dinosaur research facility in the state, before resigning in July 2007, the resignation coinciding with the investigation by the federal authorities.

Recently, the laws in the USA regarding the theft of fossils from public land were tightened when President Obama signed a new law creating a maximum prison term of up to five years for stealing fossils or other artifacts.

Palaeontologists and some public land managers, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had sought a stronger measure for years, but it came too late for Mr Murphy’s case.   However, the sentencing of Mr Murphy indicates the strong action the authorities are taking to help deter the stealing of fossils .

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