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Jim Thorpe ruling could take months

Published March 17. 2014 05:00PM

It could take months before a judge rules on Jim Thorpe borough's appeal against a decision which would allow the body of the town's namesake to possibly be moved from his resting place in the community to another state, likely Oklahoma.

Last month, argument was heard on the case in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Attorney William Schwab of Lehighton, who is representing the borough in the case, said, "Now it is a sit-and-wait situation. The court does not have a deadline in which it must decide the case. Generally, however, they take 60-90 days, but in a case like this with large competing issues it could be longer."

The borough is appealing a decision rendered last year by Judge A. Richard Caputo in the U.S. Middle District Court, Scranton, which held "that the borough should be considered a 'museum' under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act."

Caputo acted on a lawsuit filed by the athlete's grandchildren John Thorpe, William Thorpe and Richard Thorpe, and the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma.

Defendants are the borough of Jim Thorpe, Michael Sofranko, Ronald Confer, John McGuire, Joseph Marzen, W. Todd Mason, Jeremy Melber, Justin Yaich, Joseph Krebs, Greg Strubinger, Kyle Sheckler and Joanne Klitsch.

After Caputo rendered his decision, a public meeting was held in the borough, and the majority of residents who attended seemed to favor appealing the decision.

Joining the town in the appeal, and presenting testimony at the appeals hearing in Philadelphia, were two other grandsons of the athlete, John Thorpe and Michael Koehler.

The borough and the two grandsons are challenging the federal court's decision that the plaintiffs are entitled to return the late athlete's remains to the tribal home of the Sac and Indian Nation.

At issue is whether a 1990 federal law designed to protect the rights of Native Americans by ending the plunder of graves and cultural sites and returning artifacts to the tribes applies in this case.

John Thorpe and Koehler maintain the law doesn't apply to modern family buried according to the wishes of the next of kin.

Thorpe's body was brought to the community in 1954 when the town was known as Mauch Chunk by his widow, Patricia Thorpe. An agreement was made between the community and Patricia Thorpe, with one of the provisions being that the town would be renamed after the athlete.

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