Richard and Mayumi Heene, the parents of the boy falsely reported to have floated away in a homemade balloon last month, will plead guilty in a deal to ensure Mayumi, a Japanese citizen, averts the possibility of deportation that any felony conviction could bring, according to news reports Thursday.
Mr. Heene will plead guilty to the more serious felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant, the Associated Press reports, while his wife, Mayumi, will plead guilty to false reporting to authorities, a misdemeanor.
Prosecutors have reportedly agreed to allow the Heene couple to serve probation sentences.
The balloon boy tale began Oct. 16, when the Heene parents called authorities in an apparent panic about their six-year-old son. They said he had floated away in a helium balloon that had been tethered down in their Fort Collins, Colo., backyard. The ensuing spectacle transfixed much of America, as TV channels switched to live footage of the silver balloon rushing through the air, and police cars following on the ground below.
The drama continued after the balloon landed in a field 50 miles away – with no boy inside. Police and firefighters then began a massive search to find the boy, Falcon, who emerged a few hours later from the attic of his garage.
Relief soon turned into suspicion. At first, Falcon had said he hid to avoid being reprimanded for letting the balloon loose. That explanation punctured in a family appearance on "Larry King Live" that same night. On the show, when Falcon was asked whether he had heard his parents calling for him, the boy looked at the father and blurted, "You guys said we did this for the show."
Local police then questioned the family again and announced that the whole story had been a hoax perpetrated by the parents to get publicity in the hopes of landing their own reality TV show.
The Heene family had earlier appeared on ABC's reality show "Wife Swap," and Richard Heene, a storm chaser, was said to have wanted a show of his own called "The Science Detectives" or "The Psyience Detectives." (After the incident, Lifetime Television channel decided to yank from its fall schedule the rerun episode of "Wife Swap" featuring the Heenes.)
"It was done with the hope of marketing themselves for a reality TV show in the future," Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said. The most serious charges the sheriff recommended would have carried a maximum sentence of six years imprisonment.
It was Mrs. Heene who admitted the incident was a hoax, according to reports.
"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 to AP.
Without a deal, Richard could have gone to trial and been acquitted but Mayumi might have ended up being deported, Lane said. "That was not an acceptable risk, thus these pleas."
Heene's lawyer criticized the sheriff for violating privacy laws by disclosing at his press conference that child welfare workers were involved in the investigation. But news reports Tuesday said that Boulder County's district attorney had decided no criminal charges are warranted against the sheriff.
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