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‘Balloon boy’ parents set to plead guilty
DENVER | The Colorado parents accused of perpetrating the “balloon boy” hoax were charged with felony and misdemeanor counts Thursday and have agreed to plead guilty Friday as part of a plea agreement designed to keep the family together.
The Larimer County District Attorney’s Office charged Richard Heene with one count of attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony. His wife, Mayumi Heene, a Japanese citizen who could face deportation with a felony conviction, was charged with one count of false reporting to authorities, a Class 3 misdemeanor.
The Heenes turned themselves in to authorities Thursday and were released on a personal-recognizance bond, according to the district attorney’s office. They are expected to enter guilty pleas during a hearing at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Larimer County Justice Center in Fort Collins.
Mr. Heene could receive two to six years in prison for his plea, although his attorney, David Lane, said that the agreement calls for him to serve probation and up to 90 days in jail. Mrs. Heene is also expected to face probation and up to 60 days in jail.
The family gained international attention Oct. 15 when they reported that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was possibly inside a homemade helium balloon that had been accidentally released.
The silver, saucer-shaped balloon floated about 50 miles from their home in Fort Collins before touching down near Denver International Airport. Falcon wasn’t inside the balloon and later turned up at the family home.
Days later, Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said the incident was a hoax designed to win the family a contract with a reality-television show. The Heenes had faced the possibility of felony charges that could have resulted in prison sentences of as long as five years.
Mr. Heene has proclaimed his innocence; however, Mr. Lane said that he had agreed to plead guilty to the felony charge in exchange for a lighter charge against his wife. Had prosecutors filed felony charges against Mrs. Heene, she could have been deported to Japan, the attorney said.
“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,” he said.
In a separate interview, Mrs. Heene confessed to investigators that the family planned the incident as a publicity stunt, according to court documents. Even so, Mr. Lane said her statements would have been largely inadmissible as evidence against her husband.
“Given the marital privilege, it is doubtful Mayumi could have been called as a witness against Richard and the rules against hearsay would have prevented the showing of the videotaped statement she made against Richard,” he said.
Even though Mr. Lane said his client would have likely been acquitted, such a trial “would have put the family at grave risk of seeing a loving, caring, compassionate wife and mother ripped from the family and deported. This was not an acceptable risk, thus these pleas.”
A spokeswoman for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office had no immediate comment on the plea deal, which would have to be approved by a judge, and said Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden “is on a well-deserved vacation.”
In a blog entry dated Nov. 11, however, Sheriff Alderden compared one of the classic “Batman” villains to Mr. Lane, who filed a complaint against the sheriff for revealing that the case had been referred to child-protection authorities. A special prosecutor later cleared the sheriff of violating privacy laws.
“What do Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and David Lane have in common?” said Sheriff Alderden on www.larimersheriff .org/BullsEye/. “High-profile attorney David Lane first accused me of grandstanding as he was making the rounds of the newspapers, radio and television talk shows. David Lane accusing someone of grandstanding! What a Joker!”
About the Author
Valerie Richardson covers politics and the West from Denver. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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