Judge gives grave-robbers a green light
by Christopher SmithThe Utah Court of Appeals has decided that state law does not protect Anasazi graves. In late February, the court upheld a state judge's dismissal of felony charges against Jeanne and James Redd, a Blanding, Utah, couple who were accused of desecrating a Native American burial site while pot hunting.
"I am appalled the judges would rule this way," says Forrest Cuch, director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs and a member of the Ute tribe. He adds that the decision "confirms the perception that our state is very backward with its views of American Indians."
At the couple's preliminary hearing in San Juan County last March, District Judge Lyle Anderson dismissed the felony charges, questioning whether pieces of bone actually constituted a "dead human body" under the law.
The Utah attorney general's office appealed Anderson's ruling, calling the interpretation "unworkable and racist." But the Appeals Court sidestepped the question of whether the bones were actually human remains, and instead upheld the ruling because the human bones were found in a midden instead of "a recognized place of final repose."
Kevin Jones, state archaeologist for the Utah Division of History, says the court "declined to take notice that midden areas are known Anasazi burial sites, reasoning that since middens are areas where refuse or garbage is piled, they must not be sacred burial sites. It's a very ethnocentric and shoddily researched conclusion."
The attorney general's office has filed a petition for a rehearing. It may also refile criminal charges against the Redds or ask the state Supreme Court to hear the case.
* Christopher Smith
© High Country News