MU professor and research specialist head to trial over stolen artifacts

hree men were charged with second-degree theft June 30, which is punishable by five years in prison and $10,000 in fines and malicious mischief.

MU Archeology professor Lee Lyman and MU research specialist Matthew Boulanger were accused in the state of Washington of unlawfully removing forest artifacts, violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

Washington officials said Lyman, Boulanger and Southern Methodist University research affiliate Dave Schmitt took more than 93 artifacts during a research trip in 2013 to the Umatilla National Forest and Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.

Schmitt, who pleaded not guilty before the court July 22, denied the accusations.

“It’s a thorn in our side and completely unfounded,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt’s trial will commence Oct. 15.

Both Lyman and Boulanger’s lawyers appeared in court for a hearing Sept. 2, in which both announced that they are filing a motion to dismiss, according to a Columbia County Courthouse Clerk. Their trial date is set for Oct. 16.

The artifacts that were allegedly taken without permits include “not just arrowheads, but also lithic debitage, the byproducts of tool making that a layperson would probably not immediately recognize, and are important contextually in a archeological and anthropological sense,” according to papers registered in Columbia County Superior Court in Washington.

In their research article from the trip, they said the materials that they transported were found on trails and campsites used by the public and were plainly visible. This paper is cited in the investigation.

All three men were charged June 30 with second-degree theft, which is punishable by five years in prison and $10,000 in fines, and malicious mischief, which can result in 90 days of jail time and a $5,000 fine. Lyman faces an additional charge of making false statements to police officials. If found guilty, that charge can result in an increased prison sentence of 364 days.

The trio brought the artifacts from the wilderness research sites to Missouri before being asked to give the objects to the U.S. Forest Service. Court documents said that the three did not use any means of communication to alert officials that artifacts were being transferred out of the wilderness sites.

During their arraignment July 22, Schmitt pleaded not guilty while Lyman and Boulanger did not enter a plea.

“I and the other two individuals involved have taken a ‘no comment’ stance and await the court’s decision on this matter,” Lyman said.

Lyman said that once a decision on whether they’re guilty has been solidified by the court, he will be open to speaking about his charges.

This is the first criminal allegation against Lyman. The professor has written a variety of educational articles and has conducted studies in the state of Washington previously. Lyman has held his position as an MU archeology professor since 1995.

Lyman was also the 2001 recipient of the MU Chancellor’s Award for outstanding research and creative activity in biological sciences.

MU spokesperson Christian Basi confirmed that Lyman and Boulanger are still MU employees, but was prevented from elaborating more due to school policy.

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