Lawyer: US parents to plead guilty in balloon boy saga so family can stay together

The Colorado parents who reported their 6-year-old son floated away aboard a helium balloon will plead guilty to some charges so that the family can stay together, the attorney for the boy’s father said Thursday.

In this TV publicity image released by ABC

In this TV publicity image released by ABC

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The Colorado parents who reported their 6-year-old son floated away aboard a helium balloon will plead guilty to some charges 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 misdemeanour, he said.

The Larimer County district attorney’s office announced the criminal charges against the Heenes on Thursday. Spokeswoman Linda Jensen said the office would not discuss whether a plea agreement had been reached.

The charge against Richard Heene carries a possible sentence of two to six years in state prison and a fine of up to $500,000, prosecutors said. His wife could face up to six months in county jail and a fine up to $750.

Lane said he expects prosecutors to ask for jail time for both parents. He said under the conditions of the deal, Richard Heene could face up to 90 days in jail and Mayumi up to 60.

The most serious of the charges recommended by Sheriff Jim Alderden would have carried a maximum sentence of six years in prison.

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 said the Heenes’ agreement with prosecutors doesn’t call for removing Falcon or the couple’s other two children — ages 8 and 10 — from the parents’ custody.

Mayumi Heene’s attorney, Lee Christian, did not return a call. The Heenes didn’t answer when reporters knocked on the door of their home Thursday morning, and Mayumi and Richard Heene left the home without commenting to reporters. The children weren’t with them.

The Heenes have agreed to turn themselves in and are scheduled to appear in court on Friday, according to the district attorney’s office.

Lane said prosecutors insisted on a “package deal” that required Richard Heene to plead guilty to a felony so Mayumi Heene could plead guilty to a misdemeanour and avoid deportation.

“He feels like he’s got to do what he’s got to do to save his wife from being deported,” Lane said.

Lane accused law enforcement officers and prosecutors of hypocrisy for professing concern about the Heene children’s welfare but threatening “to deport a loving, kind, caring mother.”

Asked if the deportation threat was explicit, Lane said, “That was all out there, all the time. That was part of the discussion.”

Lane said he has been negotiating with prosecutors since shortly after the case broke. He said Mayumi Heene’s attorney also was part of the talks.

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.

According to the document, Mayumi Heene told an investigator the couple devised the hoax two weeks before the flight “to make the Heene family more marketable for future media interest” and that they built the balloon specifically for that purpose. Mayumi also said she and her husband had instructed their three children to lie to authorities and the media, the affidavit said.

At the time, Lane dismissed the alleged statement as hearsay and claimed it could only be used against Mayumi Heene, not her husband, whom Lane insisted had made no incriminating statements to authorities.

Spouses generally can’t be forced to testify against each other partly because of laws that extend privilege to conversations between husbands and wives, similar to those protecting lawyers from talking about their discussions with a client.

Lane said Thursday that Mayumi Heene’s statements could have been used to convict her but 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.

He said prosecutors have acknowledged their case against Richard Heene had problems.

“I’d love to take Richard’s case to trial,” he said.

Just Posted

The Red Deer Public Library downtown branch will be reopening after a year on Monday, after work is completed on its HVAC system replacement. (File photo by ADVOCATE staff)
Red Deer Public Library opens with limited in-person services Monday

All three Red Deer Public Library branches will be open for in-person… Continue reading

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Red Deer Emergency Services responded to an explosion at a duplex on Rupert Crescent Saturday morning. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters respond to explosion in Red Deer early Saturday morning

There was an explosion at a Red Deer duplex early Saturday morning.… Continue reading

Terry Betts, of Kananaskis, looks at the vehicle he was hoping to sell during the Quick Times Red Deer Swap Meet in the Westerner Park parking lot Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Quick Times Red Deer Swap Meet held outdoors

A big automotive swap meet was held outdoors this year in Red… Continue reading

The Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum is set to re-open on July 2. (File Photo)
Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum to reopen Monday

The Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum will reopen for visitors… Continue reading

Huzaifa (left), Saif (middle) and Zoya (right) were among the 60 or so Red Deerians who participated in a vigil for the victims of a recent terrorist attack that killed four people in London Ont. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Red Deer vigil honours victims of London, Ont. terrorist attack

About 60 people gathered at the corner of 49 Ave. and 50… Continue reading

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

A man wears a face mask as he walks by a sign for a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, May 16, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canada paid a premium to get doses from Pfizer earlier than planned

OTTAWA — Canada paid a premium to get more than 250,000 doses… Continue reading

The Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., is shown in this 1930 handout photo. HO — Deschatelets-NDC Archives
Calls grow for Ottawa to review settlement decisions for residential school survivors

Lawyer Teri Lynn Bougie still cries when she talks about the final… Continue reading

Syringes are readied at a COVID-19 mobile vaccination clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, Friday, April 30, 2021 in Montreal. Most of the federal contracts for COVID-19 vaccines allow for Canada to donate some of its doses to other countries or international aid organizations and in at least three cases, for the doses to be resold.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada’s vaccine contracts allow for doses to be donated, in some cases resold

OTTAWA — Most of the federal contracts for COVID-19 vaccines allow for… Continue reading

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, responds to the report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in Vancouver, on Monday June 3, 2019. As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Two sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

VANCOUVER — As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after… Continue reading

A woman sits and weeps at the scene of Sunday's hate-motivated vehicle attack in London, Ont. on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Four members of a family in London, Ont., are set to be buried today. The public has been invited to help celebrate the lives of Talat Afzaal, 74, her son Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins
Funeral to be held today for London family killed in attack

LONDON, Ont. — Four members of a Muslim family killed in what… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden listen to United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliver opening remarks at a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, United Kingdom Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau to discuss foreign policy with G7 leaders at second day of summit meeting

CARBIS BAY, CORNWALL, ENGLAND — Foreign policy is on the agenda for… Continue reading

Multivitamins are shown on the packaging line at the Pfizer plant in Montreal, Thursday, July 12, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canadian drug companies want new pricing regs delayed again until after pandemic

OTTAWA — Almost three dozen Canadian pharmaceutical companies made a direct appeal… Continue reading

Most Read