Balloon boy’s parents to plead guilty
November 12, 2009
DENVER (AP) – The Colorado parents who reported their 6-year-old son floated away in a helium balloon in what authorities say was a hoax to drum up publicity for a TV show will both plead guilty to charges in the case, the attorney for the boy’s father said Thursday.
Richard Heene, 48, will plead guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a felony, his attorney David Lane said. Mayumi Heene, 45, will plead guilty to false reporting to authorities, a misdemeanor.
Prosecutors have agreed to allow both to serve probation sentences, Lane said. Prosecutors did not immediately return a phone message Thursday morning. Mayumi Heene’s attorney, Lee Christian, also did not return a call.
The most serious of the charges recommended by Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden would have carried a maximum sentence of six years in prison.
Richard and Mayumi Heene’s frantic calls to authorities Oct. 15, 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.”
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The Heenes had twice appeared on the ABC reality show “Wife Swap,” and 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. Mayumi Heene, 45, admitted the incident was a hoax, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Lane said the couple agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors because Mayumi Heene is a citizen of Japan, and any felony conviction or certain misdemeanor convictions could result in her deportation.
“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 Thursday.
Lane said Mayumi Heene’s statements likely couldn’t have been used against her husband because of marital privilege, which can keep a a person’s spouse from testifying against them.
“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. “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.”
It was unclear whether the pleas would affect the couple’s custody of their children. Lane said avoiding Mayumi Heene’s possible deportation and keeping the family together was one of the main reasons for making the deal.