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More charges filed against grave robber



Posted by Mikola 18 to NDN AIM

01/18/03

BRYAN DENSON, BETH QUINN and ALICE TALLMADGE

EUGENE -- Federal authorities charged Grants Pass grave robber Jack Lee Harelson on Friday with unlawful possession of firearms and arranging for someone to loot hundreds of artifacts from Native American cultural sites in Oregon and Nevada.

Investigators hope two skulls seized in the investigation may clear up a mystery that has dogged them since they dug up two headless mummies in Harelson's back yard seven years ago.

The federal charges came a day after state authorities accused the 62-year-old artifacts dealer of soliciting the murder of five people. Three of his targets -- an ex-wife, a detective and a judge -- helped convict him in 1996 of stealing relics and the mummified remains of two Native American children from a cave in Nevada.

None of the killings was carried out, authorities said.

Harelson was charged in federal court in Eugene with being a felon in possession of multiple firearms and with procuring a person to excavate sites on federal land in Oregon and Nevada, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Kent said. He declined to say where those sites were, noting that his 70-page affidavit in the matter will remain under seal indefinitely.

"We have a need to go out and interview additional people," Kent said. "We don't want them to learn what we know."

Harelson appeared in court Friday afternoon in Medford to face the murder-for-hire charges. Wearing plastic jail-issue sandals and forest-green scrubs, he was arraigned before Jackson County Circuit Judge Bill Purdy, who ordered him held without bail on charges of criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and solicitation for murder. A grand jury will hear the case Tuesday.

Investigators say Harelson targeted five enemies to be killed, including two business associates, Josephine County Circuit Judge Loyd O'Neal, Oregon State Police Sgt. Walt Markee and the ex-spouse who helped get him convicted in 1996.

Harelson, whose conviction could mean up to 20 years in prison, told Purdy he didn't understand the charges.

"This is not something I did," he said.

Prosecutors had asked that Harelson be held without bail because of his threats of violence.

"I have been receiving a lot of phone calls already from people who say they are terrified if he gets out," Jackson County District Attorney Tim Barnack said.

The Harelson case comes in a region long picked over by pot hunters. For centuries, Native Americans have witnessed the plunder of their ancestors' graves and spiritual sites.

State and federal laws now prevent grave robbing and the plundering of antiquities. But looters continue to unearth baskets, sandals, clothing, beads, tools and other belongings -- many of them at grave sites -- to feed their own collections or those of other collectors. The stolen goods, sometimes even skulls and bones, are the currency of a thriving black market that spans the globe.

Authorities have not accused Harelson of taking part in the international pipeline of illegal relics. But, according to Markee, investigators think he was trying to sell illegally obtained artifacts.

Harelson maintained a Web site that boasts "southwest rock art and native American Indian art & products such as authentic arrowheads, opals, display cases and more."

Authorities began looking into Harelson's digging in 1995, when a business associate told Josephine County's district attorney that Harelson might have buried the mummified corpses of two Native American children in his garden a decade earlier.

Markee investigated. He learned from one of Harelson's ex-wives that the couple had plundered Elephant Mountain Cave, in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, from 1981 to 1984. The pair made regular trips to the site, which sat on land belonging to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. They hauled out truckloads of relics that included a pair of baskets that were more than 2,000 years old. Inside were the mummies of two ancient Paiute children.

Markee secured immunity for Harelson's ex-wife, who he said filled him in on her former husband's looting. She provided investigators with photo negatives of Harelson in the cave with a shovel and outside with a sifting screen.

By the time her account reached federal prosecutors in Nevada, however, the government had no means of punishing Harelson. The statute of limitations had already expired on the primary law that forbids looting on federal land, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979.

Back in Oregon, state police and federal agents uncovered the remains of the Paiute children. Harelson had removed them from the baskets, beheaded them and buried them in a garbage bag under about 3 feet of soil.

"You wouldn't treat your family pet who died the way Mr. Harelson treated those corpses," District Attorney Tim Thompson later told The Oregonian.

A Josephine County jury in 1996 found Harelson guilty of theft, corpse abuse and tempering with evidence. He served 30 days in jail. But police and members of the Pyramid Lake Pauite Tribe of Nevada wanted to clear up a mystery: What became of the skulls?

That question may have been answered in the latest case against Harelson.

"During the course of the investigation, two skulls were recovered," said Robert "Craig" Magill, special agent in charge of the BLM for Oregon. "It is still to be proven whether those came from the remains dug up in Harelson's back yard."

Oregon's Supreme Court overturned Harelson's conviction for corpse abuse in 1997, determining that the statute of limitations had expired.

Last month, a federal administrative law judge in Reno fined Harelson $2.5 million for the Elephant Mountain Cave looting. The penalty was the fourth-largest ever assessed for archaeological theft.

On Friday, Purdy, the judge in Jackson County, began Harelson's arraignment by denying his request for a court-appointed lawyer.

Tax records show that Harelson's 1,500-square-foot home in Grants Pass is valued at $145,480.

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