As reported earlier*, Nate Murphy has been accused of stealing fossils from private land in Montana. Charges have officially been brought against Mr. Murphy for the theft of a small theropod skeleton. The New York Times reported today that Mr. Murphy has in fact been charged with felony theft after a year long investigation. The story begins in 2002 during an excavation in Montana, where Australian geologist, Mark Thompson, was a participant. He discovered the remains of a small theropod with Mr. Murphy, who is reported as asking Mr. Thompson to not report the find to Joann and Howard Hammond, with whom Murphy had a profit-sharing arrangement to excavate on their land. Mr. Murphy claims that he did not know the land he was working on did not belong to the Hammond family, but rather was leased from Bruce Bruckner, making the agreement with the Hammond’s void for the land where the fossils were found. Mr. Thompson did not tell the Hammonds about his discovery, but did show pictures and fossil remains taken from the site to paleontologist Robert Bakker.
In 2006 when Mr. Murphy took a specimen of a fossil turtle to the Dinosaur Field Station (now the Great Plains Museum) he told colleagues he found it near Saco, Montana (25 miles away). According to Murphy, it was not until later he discovered the remains of the small theropod under the turtle specimen, which he called “Sid Vicious.” Thompson contacted the Hammonds in 2007 when he heard about the discovery of “Sid Vicious.” The Hammonds contacted Mr. Bruckner, who them filled a complaint. Later, Mr. Murphy admitted to finding the fossil (fossils?) on Mr. Bruckner’s land and that he made a mistake in assuming he was on land he had an agreement to work on. Now Murphy is facing felony theft charges, to which he says he “has no choice but to plead guilty to…” A trial is set for March.
*Read some of the comments on the previous blog post as they are interesting and tell more of the story. The links are in the first sentence of this post.
The New York Times article is behind a registration wall, but can be read once registration is completed (and it is free). The above is paraphrased from Jim Robbins' New York Times article "Instead of Glory, the Finder of a Rare Dinosaur Fossil Faces Charges of Theft" and credit should be given to him for the reporting of this update. Thanks to the multiple people who brought this update in the story to my attention.