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Two accused of looting American Indian graves

Friday, November 29, 2002

WAPPAPELLO, Mo. (AP) -- Federal grand jurors have accused two men of damaging an American Indian burial site by digging for artifacts at southeast Missouri's Wappapello Lake.

Steven Scott Tripp, 40, of Farmington, and William Thomas Cooksey, 53, of Union, were named in the two-count indictment returned Oct. 24 in U.S. District Court at Cape Girardeau.

Cooksey made his first federal court appearance Oct. 30; Tripp did so Monday. Both are free on bond.

The indictment alleges that on Aug. 15, Tripp and Cooksey illegally excavated, removed, damaged and defaced archaeological resources, and that by doing so they caused at least $1,000 in damage. Gary Stilts, the Army Corps' operations manager there, estimated the damage to be about $14,000.

On Aug. 15, Army Corps of Engineers officials and Wayne County authorities, responding to a tip, found Tripp and Cooksey digging at a burial site in a remote area near the lake, Stilts said.

The suspects allegedly had some arrowheads and so-called camp stones, which historically were used as a grinding tool. Tripp and Cooksey found human remains during the alleged excavation, but those had been set aside, officials said.

Investigators found that two "fairly large holes" had been dug, Stilts said.

"It's a sacred thing. None of us would want anyone digging in our ancestor's grave," Stilts said.

If convicted, Tripp and Cooksey could face up to 12 years in prison and $270,000 in fines, followed by four years of supervised release.

Stilts said Corps officials have had past problems involving people violating federal law by collecting surface artifacts.


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