Paleontologist gets 60 days for stealing bones

BILLINGS — Amateur paleontologist Nathan Murphy, whose discovery of the world’s best-preserved dinosaur made him a leading name in the for-profit fossil industry, will serve 60 days in jail for stealing bones from private land.

The self-taught owner of a private dinosaur hunting business in Billings, Murphy, 51, was convicted in March of felony theft for taking raptor bones from a landowner in the Malta area. Sentencing in a separate federal case involving additional fossils is scheduled for July 9.

Murphy’s work includes unearthing a mummified duckbill dinosaur dubbed Leonardo, considered the world’s best-preserved fossil. The bones of the turkey-sized prehistoric raptor at the heart of his theft conviction were found by one of Murphy’s workers in 2002.

Since he was first charged last year, Murphy has claimed a series of honest mistakes led to the joint federal-state criminal investigation that brought his conviction. But in an interview Monday, he acknowledged concealing the truth about where the raptor bones came from — and suggested he was not the only fossil hunter to make such a claim.

“I understand my responsibility and I hope others who were involved in it will take it to heart,” he said. “The investigation created a poster boy. They’re going to have Nate Murphy to hold up to the public and say, ‘Don’t pick up nothing on public land, and know where you are at.’ They needed somebody like me.”

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