Lawyer: Colorado balloon boy’s parents to plead guilty
November 12, 2009
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) – The Colorado parents who reported their 6-year-old son floated away aboard a helium balloon will plead guilty to some charges and serve probation so that the family can stay together, the attorney for the boy’s father said Thursday.
Richard Heene will plead guilty in the alleged Oct. 15 hoax to attempting to influence a public servant, a felony, his attorney David Lane said. Mayumi Heene – a Japanese citizen who could have been deported if convicted of more serious charges – will plead guilty to false reporting to authorities, a misdemeanor, he said.
Prosecutors haven’t announced whether they’ve filed charges in the case and didn’t immediately return a call Thursday seeking comment on the plea agreement. The Larimer County sheriff’s office, which recommended criminal charges, hasn’t been notified of any charges filed in the case, spokeswoman Eloise Campanella said.
The saga gripped a global audience, first with fear for the safety of 6-year-old Falcon Heene and then with anger at his parents when authorities accused them of perpetrating a hoax.
After the boy was found safe at home, sheriff’s officials contacted social workers to make sure the children were in a healthy environment.
Lane didn’t address whether the pleas would include monitoring of the couple. Mayumi Heene’s attorney, Lee Christian, did not return a call, and the Heenes didn’t answer when an Associated Press reporter knocked on their door Thursday morning.
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As part of the plea deal, Lane said prosecutors have agreed to let both parents serve probation sentences. The most serious of the charges recommended by Sheriff Jim Alderden would have carried a maximum sentence of six years in prison.
Keeping the family together was a main factor in reaching the deal, Lane said in a statement.
“Upon reviewing the evidence, arguably, Mayumi could have possibly ended up being deported and Richard could have proceeded to trial and had a good chance at an acquittal,” Lane said in a statement. “This, however, would have put the family at grave risk of seeing a loving, caring, compassionate wife and mother ripped from the family and deported. That was not an acceptable risk, thus these pleas.”
The couple’s frantic calls to authorities, saying they feared their son Falcon might be aboard a homemade balloon that had escaped from their suburban Fort Collins back yard, triggered a frenzied response before the balloon landed in a dusty farm field without the boy inside. The Heenes said they found Falcon at home – hiding, they said.
Relief soon turned to suspicion. During a live interview on CNN hours after the balloon chase, Falcon looked to his father and said, “You had said that we did this for a show.”
The Heenes are amateur storm chasers and had twice appeared on the ABC reality show “Wife Swap.” Former business partners said Richard Heene wanted a show of his own called “The Science Detectives” or “The Psyience Detectives.”
On Oct. 17, deputies questioned both parents separately. Richard Heene, 48, adamantly denied the saga was a publicity stunt. But Mayumi Heene, 45, admitted the incident was a hoax, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Lane said Mayumi Heene’s statements likely couldn’t have been used against her husband because of marital privilege, which can keep a person’s spouse from testifying against him or her.
“Unfortunately, the prosecutors insisted upon a package deal where Richard would have to fall on his sword and take a felony plea despite the fact that he made no incriminating statements to law enforcement and Mayumi’s statements could not be used against him,” Lane said.
Associated Press Writer Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.