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Appeals Court Backs N.C. in Bill of Rights

June 23, 2006

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ A federal appeals court agreed Thursday that North Carolina was entitled to reclaim the state’s original copy of the Bill of Rights, seized three years ago from two men in Connecticut.

The document had been missing since it was stolen from the state Capitol at the end of the Civil War and privately sold to various people for nearly 140 years until antiques dealer Wayne Pratt and businessman Robert Matthews bought it in 2000 for $200,000.

In 2003, an FBI agent posing as a museum buyer pretended to purchase the paper from Pratt and Matthews for $5 million, and seized the document with a federal court order.

Matthews claims the document is worth $30 million on the private market and that it was improperly seized by federal agents. While Pratt relinquished his half ownership to North Carolina, Matthews continues to fight his stake.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rebuffed Matthews’ bid to regain possession, but said he could continue to fight his claim that he owns the document and is entitled to permanent possession.

Matthews’ attorney, Michael A. Stratton of New Haven, Conn., said his client planned to appeal his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

``It’s been in private hands for 140 years at least, Stratton said. ``He bought it and he wants it back.″

The copy of the document listing the rights enjoyed by United States citizens was one of 14 made in 1789.

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