Craig man sentenced for disturbing Native grave

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A self-described amateur archaeologist who pleaded guilty to disturbing a 1,400-year-old Alaska Native gravesite was sentenced to three months in prison by a federal judge on Wednesday.

It was the first such conviction in Alaska under the Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1979, a prosecutor said.

Ian Martin Lynch, 27, must also pay $7,536 in restitution and serve one year of supervised release, U.S. District Judge James M. Fitzgerald said.

Lynch, of Craig, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating the grave under the federal Archaeological Resource Protection Act as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Lynch was convicted of taking the skull of an ancient Native child while on a trip near Prince of Wales Island in 1997.

The man had discovered the gravesite while exploring on Hecata Island near his hunting camp. He took it home and had stored it behind his couch, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki.

''He stumbled upon a skull that had been in the open and felt that it might have been of archaeological significance, but he had no intent to offend anybody, to desecrate a gravesite,'' his attorney Rich Kurtner told KRBD-Radio.

But Skrocki, who prosecuted the case, thought otherwise, noting that the man continued to poke around the grave for additional artifacts.

''Because he knew Alaska Natives often times bury artifacts with their dead,'' Skrocki said.

The case angered many Native organizations that had urged the judge to impose the stiffest sentence possible.

''If it was a white person's grave, they would have thrown him in jail and then talked about how long he would have had to serve in jail,'' said Joe Williams, Saxman Tribal President.

Williams was angered that prosecutors gave Lynch a plea bargain.

Lynch was earlier sentenced to three months in jail and ordered to pay restitution and perform 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty to a felony charge.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, saying prosecutors had to prove Lynch knew the artifact was of archaeological significance and not simply that he took it.

This was the first such conviction under the Congressional act aimed at protecting Native graves from looters.

In 1997, authorities declined to prosecute a Washington state civil contractor who dug up and took home 155 ivory lip piercings, stone spears and bone fishhooks used by Aleutians thousands of years ago in Alaska. Prosecutors did not believe they could prove John Wells was violating the same act cited in Lynch's case.

Efforts are underway to repatriate the skull, Skrocki said. While the case was pending, the skull was stored in a cedar box and Klawock rituals were performed in accordance with Native traditions, Skrocki said.

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