DENVER (AP) - The Colorado parents who reported their 6-year-old son floated away aboard a helium balloon will plead guilty to some charges in an attempt to keep the family together, the attorney for the boy's father said Thursday.
Richard Heene will plead guilty 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 misdemeanor, he said.
Prosecutors have agreed to allow both to serve probation sentences, Lane said. The Oct. 15 event raised questions about whether the couple were fit parents, and social workers were contacted. Lane didn't address whether the pleas would include monitoring of the couple, and prosecutors did not immediately return a phone message Thursday morning. Mayumi Heene's attorney, Lee Christian, also did not return a call.
The most serious of the charges recommended by Larimer County
Sheriff Jim Alderden would have carried a maximum sentence of six
years in prison.
Keeping the family together was a main factor in reaching the deal, Lane said.
"Upon reviewing the evidence, arguably, Mayumi could have
possibly ended up being deported and Richard could have proceeded
to trial and had a good chance at an acquittal," Lane said. "This, however, would have put the family at grave risk of seeing a loving, caring, compassionate wife and mother ripped from the family and deported. That was not an acceptable risk, thus these pleas."
Richard and Mayumi Heene'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 had twice appeared on the ABC reality show "Wife Swap," and former business partners said Richard Heene wanted a
show of his own called "The Science Detectives" or "The Psyience
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.
Lane said Mayumi Heene's statements likely 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.
"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 in a statement.
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