Nate Murphy got off pretty easy. The amateur dinosaur hunter pleaded guilty to stealing dinosaur bones from federal land, but he won’t spend any time in prison.
Murphy, 51, has spent the last 20 years hunting for dinosaur bones in Montana’s Hell Creek rock formation. He became famous in 2000 for unearthing Leonardo, a mummified duckbilled dinosaur and the best-preserved specimen in the world.
But Murphy’s career began to unravel in 2007 when Montana authorities charged him with stealing a raptor fossil from a private ranch, the Billings Gazette reports. That case turned out to be just the beginning, and feds soon alleged that Murphy had also been crossing onto federal land to excavate other fossils.
Although President Obama signed the Paleontological Resource Protection Act in March to stiffen penalties for fossil thefts from public lands, Murphy’s case got in under the old rules, the Associated Press reports.
Prosecutors sought the maximum penalty of 10 months in prison, but the judge came down with a more lenient sentence. Last Wednesday, he was ordered to pay $17,325 restitution, sentenced to three years probation and received 120 days in a pre-release center.
After Murphy was sentenced, he told reporters that he “never collected on public land or private land with the intention of getting away with something," the Gazette reported.
Image of Leonardo at the Houston Museum of Natural Science courtesy of eschipul via Flickr