Paleontologist pleads guilty to stealing bones

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A famed paleontologist who discovered the world's best preserved dinosaur pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing dinosaur fossils from federal land in Montana.

Nate Murphy, 51, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Great Falls under a plea agreement that would not seek jail time when he's sentenced July 9. Murphy would have faced up to 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised release.

U.S. Magistrate Keith Strong initially refused to accept the plea after Murphy said he made a "mistake" in not accurately mapping where fossils were recovered, said the prosecutor, assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Fehr.

"This was not a mistake," Fehr said. "If this was merely a mistake, it would not be sufficient for a criminal charge."

Murphy later clarified that pinpointing the exact location of fossil finds was standard scientific procedure and that he did not do so in two instances. In his plea to theft of government property, Murphy also admitted to acting with "willful ignorance or blindness," indicating that he knew his actions risked violating the law.

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