- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota lawmakers plan to ask President Barack Obama to pardon renowned paleontologist Peter Larson, whose team discovered “Sue,” the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil ever found.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a resolution Thursday seeking a clean slate for Larson, who spent time in prison on charges unrelated to the T-rex discovery. As part of the resolution, lawmakers recognized Larson, who founded the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, South Dakota, in 1978, for his contributions to state’s education, history and culture.

Rep. Mike Verchio, a Republican from Hill City, said he thinks Larson was overzealously prosecuted and was unaware he had broken the law.

“We were disheartened when he was sent to prison many years ago, and we are now here to present a plea to you to help us get this resolution sent on to the president to request his pardon,” Verchio said of his measure. “We believe Mr. Larson has earned the right to have a clean slate.”

The state House already passed the measure, which now heads to the full state Senate.

Sue is named after fossil hunter Sue Hendrickson. Hendrickson was working with the Larson on Aug. 12, 1990, when she discovered the T-rex on a Cheyenne River Indian Reservation ranch operated by Maurice Williams. After writing Williams a check for $5,000, Larson and his staff excavated the fossils and brought them back to his institute in Hill City, S.D.

The fossils were more than 90 percent complete when they were discovered in 1990, missing only a foot, one arm and a few ribs and vertebrae. The actual dinosaur resides at Chicago’s Field Museum, which purchased the 67 million-year-old dinosaur at auction for $8.4 million in 1997.

In May 1992, federal agents seized the dinosaur as evidence in a criminal case against the institute and company employees. Nearly all of the charges eventually were dropped, but Larson was sentenced to two years in federal prison on unrelated counts involving the failure to report some financial matters and taking fossils from federal land.

Larson and his partner Bob Farrar were convicted of two felony charges each for lying on customs documents about thousands of dollars used for fossil deals in Peru and Japan. Larson also was convicted of two misdemeanors for retaining a fossil illegally taken from a Montana national forest.

Verchio said he met Larson in 1989 when Larson was “a fair-haired young man,” and said it makes him feel good to pursue the pardon.

Now 62 and pursuing his doctorate, Larson said a pardon is similar to the advanced degree: “Another goal in life.” He said he is also working on a formal pardon request and the resolution - should it pass - will be “Exhibit A” in the petition.

“It’s going to mean so much to me if I can get this pardon,” Larson said. “It literally brings tears to my eyes when I think about how wonderful people are.”

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