Balloon boy parents plead 'guilty,' but is justice served?

Sentencing is in December, but some worry plea deal for balloon boy parents lets them off too easy.

Rick Wilking/REUTERS
Richard and Mayumi Heene leave Larimer County district court in Fort Collins, Colorado Friday. The parents of a Colorado boy thought to have floated away in a homemade helium balloon will plead guilty to criminal charges of staging the incident in a publicity-seeking hoax, their lawyer said on Thursday.

Now that Richard and Mayumi Heene – parents of the little boy once thought to be trapped in a silver balloon as it flew across the Colorado sky – have pleaded guilty to charges related to the Oct. 15 incident, has justice been served?

The final answer may yet depend on the sentences they receive for hatching a scheme they apparently hoped would land the family a starring role in a reality TV show. Both Heenes are slated to return to court Dec. 23 for sentencing.

Both are hoping for probation, according to their attorneys, but Mrs. Heene could also be sentenced to 60 days of jail time and Mr. Heene to as much as 90 days.

On Friday, as part of a plea deal reached with prosecutors, Mr. Heene pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a felony charge. Mrs. Heene pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge of making a false report to authorities. According to court statements Friday and previous announcements by the Heenes' attorneys, the couple agreed to the deal to ensure that Mrs. Heene, a Japanese citizen, wouldn't face felony charges that could have led to her deportation.

The deal means the state of Colorado will be spared the expense of a trial, but it also probably means that the expenses incurred as a result of "rescue" efforts will not be recovered.

It's also the case that the likely sentences are far less than the maximum allowed. For a felony of the level Mr. Heene pleaded guilty to, the penalty is two to six years in prison and a fine of $2,000 to $500,000, according to the Coloradoan. Mrs. Heene's charge carries a penalty of up to six months in county jail and a fine of $50 to $750.

The deal "makes sense for both sides, especially given the cost of a trial and the risk that the mother involved here would have been deported and separated from her children," says CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "I'm not surprised at all that this ends with a whimper and not a bang."

In the days after the runaway balloon incident, angry members of the public called for the Heenes to repay taxpayer expenses from the rescue efforts. They included the costs of launching a National Guard helicopter and sending search teams on horseback and ATVs, as the Monitor reported earlier.

A professor at Babson College in Babson Park, Mass., even calculated the expense to the US economy. The bill? Some $2.8 billion in lost productivity.

This has left some feeling the Heenes' punishment does not suit their crime.

"You force your children to lie to authorities, you perpetrate and execute a dangerous hoax that ties up law enforcement and rescue officials for a long period, you make a general costly nuisance of yourself and you got off with a small slap on the wrist," writes one blogger.

Others are simply tired of hearing about the balloon boy case.

"I wish Balloon boy wasn't a trending topic again," writes Twitter user katiecook. "That family has already gotten enough attention. That was their whole goal!"


See also:

Goal of guilty plea in balloon boy case: Mom won't be deported

Colorado went to huge lengths to save balloon boy Falcon Heene


Follow us on Twitter.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.