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Two men plead guilty to digging up ancient burial site

Posted by Mikola18 to NDN AIM

Law and order: Two men plead guilty to digging up ancient burial site

01/27/2003 10:30 PM


Two men admitted in federal court Monday that they illegally dug up an ancient burial site near Lake Wappapello in southeastern Missouri.

Steven S. Tripp and William T. Cooksey each pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau to one count of destroying archaeological resources and one count of damaging federal property.

Tripp, 40, of Pevely, and Cooksey, 53, of Union, declined to comment as they left the courthouse.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Hahn said the prosecution of the two men sent an important message to people who might desecrate grave sites or carry out illegal archaeological digs. "We will prosecute these kinds of cases," he said. "Protecting the sanctity of Native American burial sites is important to this office."

The men face a total of 12 years in prison and up to $270,000 in fines.

Acting on a tip, authorities last summer observed the two men digging at the site and arrested them as they left the scene with arrowheads and other artifacts, according to court documents. The men had piled human remains near two holes they had dug.

The Army Corps of Engineers has said the area around the lake, now part of a park, was used by numerous Native American tribes.

However, the site near the lake apparently dates to an earlier period. Laura Anderson, an anthropologist for the Corps of Engineers, concluded the human remains from the illicit dig came from Archaic or Emergent Mississippian periods, or an era spanning from 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1000, court records show.

Robbing the graves of Native Americans is lucrative, as the market for their artifacts is thriving. Under the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, digging up graves is illegal without authorization from tribes or appropriate authorities. Tripp and Cooksey were charged with destroying archaeological resources on federal land and damaging federal property.

On Aug. 15, the corps, which manages the lake as part of a 44,000-acre park, received an anonymous tip about the illegal dig. Corps rangers, joined by a Missouri conservation agent and Wayne County sheriff's deputies, drove to a remote area near the lake and hiked a half mile through hilly terrain.

There they discovered Cooksey and Tripp digging up the site, the corps said. The men had about 15 arrowheads and artifacts in their possession, and Tripp had several items in his shoes, according to LeeAnn Summer, a lawyer for the corps. The men had discovered human remains as they dug, placing them in a pile, Summer said last year.

The two men had tools, including shovels and a long steel probe, according to an account filed in court as part of their guilty pleas Monday.

Cooksey and Tripp were indicted Oct. 24. Both men are free on bond. U.S. District Judge Richard Webber set sentencing for April 28.

Reporter Peter Shinkle:
E-mail: [email protected] Phone: 314-621-5804

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