'Balloon Boy' Parents Plead Guilty
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Today, the Colorado couple who staged last month's balloon boy hoax pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Richard and Mayumi Heene admit they conned police into believing their young son had been swept away in a homemade balloon. Their guilty pleas are part of an agreement to prevent Mrs. Heene from being deported.
From member station KUNC, Kirk Siegler reports.
KIRK SIEGLER: In a black suit and slick back hair, Richard Heene stood stoically in Larimer County Court as Judge Stephen Schapanski read the felony charge.
Mr. STEPHEN SCHAPANSKI (Chief Judge, Larimer County Court): As to the attempt to influence a public servant, count one, the only file that's been filed here, how do you plea?
Mr. RICHARD HEENE (Amateur Scientist and Storm Chaser, Colorado): Guilty.
SIEGLER: A few minutes later, Heene's wife, Mayumi, also pled guilty to a misdemeanor for making a false statement to authorities. Outside the courtroom, the family's attorney, David Lane, noted that Mayumi Heene is Japanese and could have been deported if she had faced to felony, so this was the best thing that could happen.
Mr. DAVID LANE: (Heene's Family Attorney): So using that leverage, Richard looked at the case and said, I got to take this deal because I cannot risk my wife being deported.
SIEGLER: Last month, the so-called balloon boy incident drew international media attention as the helium balloon the family built floated across Northern Colorado. The Heenes called the Denver TV station and then 911 to report their son was in it that landed in a field near Denver International Airport, but the Heenes' son Falcon turned out to be hiding in the family's garage the entire time.
There have been calls by local authorities that all of the family's kids should be removed by Child Protective services, but David Lane said the Heene children are in good hands.
Mr. LANE: Contrary to what everybody wants to believe, my view of these kids is - they've been in my office a fair amount of time, they are well-cared for, well-loved kids.
SIEGLER: As part of the agreement, the Heenes may have to foot the bill for the search and rescue operation. And both parents face possible jail time at sentencing in late December. Until the end, the judge says Richard Heene can leave the state to seek employment in New York and California. It's been widely reported that Heene staged the stunt to bolster the family's chances of getting a reality TV program. Attorney David Lane said today's guilty plea would have no impact on any future show deal.
For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Fort Collins, Colorado.
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