Frankenstein dinosaur subject of legal tussle

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iol scitech sep 6 Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton Reuters An eight-foot tall, 24-foot long, 75 percent complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton is seen in this handout photo from Heritage Auctions in New York.

New York - A federal judge expressed surprise on Wednesday that a dinosaur skeleton seized by the US government is a composite of several ancient creatures, calling it a “kind of Frankenstein model of a dinosaur.”

US District Judge Kevin Castel said it seemed much more needs to be learned about the 70 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, known as Ty, before it can be carted off to Mongolia, where the US government says it originated and belongs.

With the judge's approval, US agents swooped into a storage facility in June and snatched the fossil after the government insisted it was a rare specimen that could only have originated in Mongolia. The fossil's seizure seemed urgent after it was sold by Dallas-based auction house Heritage Auctions for $1.05 million.

Attorney Michael McCullough argued the skeleton should be returned to Gainesville, Florida, fossils dealer Eric Prokopi, who says he assembled dinosaur pieces that were worth only tens of thousands of dollars into a nearly intact skeleton worth much more.

The judge said he thought the skeleton represented one dinosaur. McCullough told him only 37 percent of the skeleton came from one specimen, with an equal amount of the finished product coming from at least one other dinosaur and possibly many.

“Now I'm finding out it's kind of a Frankenstein model of a dinosaur, based on several creatures,” the judge said.

It also was revealed that dinosaur pieces were brought into the United States in four shipments, not one, as had been described in papers filed by the government.

The US government has said the dinosaur had to have been taken from Mongolia and must be returned. McCullough argued that much of the skeleton might have originated in other countries and that the government had not sufficiently shown why it must be sent to Mongolia.

A prosecutor said it was highly unlikely that the bones originated outside Mongolia and that they are subject to forfeiture whether they originated with one dinosaur or many.

Through a quirk of law, the US government was forced to sue the dinosaur itself so that it could seize it, a fact that did not get past the judge.

“I'm not going to claim I have dinosaur arrests presented to me with any frequency,” he said.

Although the dinosaur was not in court Wednesday, the judge left open the possibility that it would be brought in if the case goes to trial.

In describing its size, a prosecutor said it would be possible to fit two similar size dinosaurs in the jury box.

The judge replied: “I don't think we'll have a skeleton in the jury box, but we might have it in the courtroom.” - Sapa-AP

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