Fossils & Minerals:  Dinosaurs & Birds:  SUE T. rex Story - Part 5
The Story of a Dinosaur Named SUE (cont.)

Part 5 - Free SUE / Court Case

The weeks which followed, were filled with activities aimed at securing the release of SUE. The FREE SUE campaign had begun. Terry Wentz, the preparator who had spent more than a year with SUE, and who knew her best, was appointed manager of the campaign. Kathy Farrar joined Terry as second in command. For months, our preparatory was shut down as the entire staff wrote letters, made telephone calls and made photocopies. The Institute was turned into the FREE SUE Campaign Headquarters.

The seizure and imprisonment of SUE made news around the world. SUE was featured in newspapers from the Hill City Prevailer to the London Times. She was on ABC Network news across the United States and was seen on television in Korea. It seemed as though I was interviewed dozens of times each day. The world could not believe this had happened.

In one of the interviews, I mentioned, "I knew we were in trouble when the Acting US Attorney showed up at the crime scene wearing television makeup."

On May 18, 1992, a large group of supporters brandished signs in front of the Federal Building in Rapid City, protesting the seizure of SUE, and this flagrant disregard of the Constitution of the United States. Passing motorists honked their support.

On May 22, our attorneys, Patrick Duffy and Joseph Butler, filed suit on behalf of the Institute and the Black Hills Museum of Natural History, in Federal District Court in Rapid City. The suit named the United States of America, Department of Justice; Manual Lujan, Jr., Secretary of the Interior; the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, as defendants. We were suing for the return of SUE.

On May 27, the Institute filed, with the District Court, a motion for injunctive relief "to ameliorate damage the fossil was suffering during its storage in a machine shop on a local college campus." The judge denied the motion before noon on May 28th. The Institute appealed the decision to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court agreed to hear the appeal on June 11th. Patrick Duffy traveled to Saint Louis, Missouri to deliver oral arguments.

On June 12th, the Institute was hit with another subpoena. This subpoena demanded that 50,000 additional documents be surrendered to a Grand Jury on June 16.

On June 13th, protesters gathered in Pierre, the State Capital, demanding to talk to the Governor. Lurking FBI agents photographed the demonstrators, including the school children.

On June 26, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reached its decision. Speaking for the court, Circuit Judge, Frank Magill wrote:

"This case concerns the care and custodianship of a 65 million-year-old pile of bones named Sue.... The ownership of these bones is not before this court. Rather, appellants sought a preliminary injunction requiring the federal government to return the fossil to them for safekeeping until the ownership question is answered.... We find the government's rationale for the seizure inadequate. The seizure not only keeps appellants from accessing the fossil, but it deprives the public and the scientific community from viewing and studying this rare find.... Therefore, in light of the emergency nature of this case, we remand to the district court with directions to hold a hearing at its earliest possible convenience to determine proper custodianship of the fossil during the pendency of this case."

On Thursday, July 9, a hearing began in District Court in Rapid City. Andrew Leitch, Dr. Donald Wolberg, and Dr. Robert Bakker all testified that SUE's bones contained pyrite. The presence of pyrite poses a grave danger to the fossil because the oxidation of pyrite produces sulfuric acid, which would damage the bone. They testified that the conditions under which the fossil was stored (heat, humidity, and sealed containers) would bring degradation. Finally, they stated that the fossil MUST be curated, DEAD-STORAGE is DEAD-WRONG, and the most qualified curators were the staff of the Black Hills Institute.

Dr. Robert Hunt (a mammalian paleontologist and secretary of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology), testifying on behalf of the government, stated that he believed the fossil was in no danger and should remain where it was, in a steel tank in the boiler room at the School of Mines. He further stated that "Officers of the Black Hills Institute have not published scientific studies demonstrating serious scientific expertise in dinosaur research, nor are they able to identify the best experts to undertake such a study". He also introduced into evidence, documents agreeing with his opinion, signed by people who had never seen SUE, the Institute, or the boiler room where SUE was imprisoned. Two technicians, Sally Sheldon and Pat Leiggi, also testifying for the government, agreed with Dr. Hunt. The hearing was recessed on Friday, to reconvene the following Monday.

On Saturday, July 11, 1992, the Black Hills Museum Of Natural History had its Grand Opening in its temporary home in the facilities of Black Hills Institute. Several hundred people attended this long-awaited event. Speakers included Mayor Drew Vitter, Senate candidate Gus Hercules, Museum Advisory Board President Joseph Harris, Dr. Robert Bakker, and Dr. Donald Wolberg. Gus Hercules spoke on behalf of SUE, who was unable to attend.

On Monday, July 13th, we went back to court. After three long and tedious days of testimony, the Court was ready to make its ruling. In a prepared statement the judge said:

"there is no irreparable damage caused to the specimen and it would not reasonably be expected to suffer future irreparable damage. The Court concludes that temporary custody should remain with the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The Court will in no event permit curation of this specimen."

We were devastated.

On July 20, 1992, our attorneys presented a brief to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, appealing the judge's decision. The Eighth Circuit agreed to hear our appeal and set the date for October 14th. Although the hearing has been held, to date we have not received word on their decision. No charges have been filed. I can only believe that SUE will be returned.

<< Raid & Seizure Final Chapter >>
SUE T. rex Story

 1) Beginning
 2) Discovery / Excavation
 3) Initial Preparation
 4) Raid and seizure
 5) Free SUE / Court case
 6) Final Chapter


 - STAN the T. rex
 - SUE the T. rex
 - T. rex specimen chart
 - Acrocanthosaurus
 - CLAWS Struthiomimus
 - Horned Dinosaurs
 - KELSEY Triceratops
 - Edmontosaurus

 - Fossil Birds


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 - Dinosaurs & Birds
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 - Plants & Amber

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