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Court Sidesteps Dinosaur Ownership Dispute

Court Sidesteps Dinosaur Ownership Dispute
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court today steered clear of a dispute over who
owns a 65-million-year-old dinosaur's remains, the most complete Tyrannosaurus
rex fossil ever found.

The court, without comment, rejected an appeal aimed at forcing the federal
government to return the fossil FBI agents seized in South Dakota two years

The fossilized skeleton was discovered in 1990 on ranch land held in trust by
the federal government for Maurice Williams, a member of the Cheyenne River
Sioux Tribe. Williams' 2,000-acre ranch is located within the tribe's

The dinosaur was discovered by Sue Hendrickson, a researcher with the Blacks
Institute of Geological Research, a private fossil-hunting company based in
Rapid City, S.D.

The institute had paid Williams $5,000 for the right to dig on his property and
keep anything it found. But Williams never sought federal permission for that

After the Indian tribe complained that the excavation had been illegal, FBI
agents seized the dinosaur from its Hill City storage and moved it to the South
Dakota School of Mines and Technology, where it remains today.

The institute sued the government and the tribe, seeking return of the dinosaur.
But a federal trial judge ruled that the institute had no legal right to it
because the fossil had been part of the land held in trust for Williams only.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling last December.

"Under South Dakota law, the fossil was an 'ingredient' comprising part of the
'solid material of earth.' It was a component part of Williams' land, just like
the soil, the rocks and whatever other naturally occurring materials make up the
earth of the ranch," the appeals court ruled.

The fossil's legal status, the appeals court said, is one of being held in
trust for Williams.

In the appeal acted on today, lawyers for the fossil-hunting institute said
the dinosaur had been seized without a legally required hearing. The appeal also
argued that the fossil should not be considered part of the land.

Government lawyers urged the justices to reject the appeal. They noted that one
expert had estimated the dinosaur's worth at several million dollars, and that
another called it "priceless."

The case is Black Hills Institute of Geological Research vs. U.S., 93-1825.