Balloon boy parents get jail time, tough probation
December 23, 2009
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – The parents who carried out the balloon boy hoax were sentenced to jail Wednesday and given strict probation conditions that forbid them from earning any money from the spectacle for four years.
Richard Heene was sentenced to 90 days in jail, including 60 days of work release that will let him pursue his job as a construction contractor while serving his time. His wife, Mayumi, was sentenced to 20 days in jail.
Richard Heene choked back tears as he said he was sorry, especially to the rescue workers who chased down false reports that his 6-year-old son had floated away in a balloon on Oct. 15. It was a stunt designed to generate attention for a reality TV show.
“I do want to reiterate that I’m very, very sorry. And I want to apologize to all the rescue workers out there, and the people that got involved in the community. That’s it,” said Richard Heene, whose wife did not speak at the hearing.
Larimer County District Judge Stephen Schapanski then ordered Heene to begin a 30-day jail term on Jan. 11, delaying the start of the sentence for two weeks so he can spend the holidays with his family. Schapanski allowed Heene to serve the remaining 60 days of his jail term under work release, meaning he can work during the day but spend his nights in jail.
The Heenes’ probation will be revoked if they are found to be profiting from any book, TV, movie or other deals related to the stunt.
“This, in simple terms, was an elaborate hoax that was devised by Mr. and Mrs. Heene,” the judge said.
The Heenes pleaded guilty to charges that they carried out the balloon hoax, with deals that called for up to 90 days in jail for the husband and 60 days for his wife.
Schapanski ordered Mayumi Heene to serve 20 days in jail after her husband completes his sentence. Her time served is flexible – she can report to jail on 10 weekends, for example – so the children are cared for, the judge said.
Prosecutors asked for the maximum sentence for the husband, saying that a message needs to be sent to promoters who attempt to carry out hoaxes to generate publicity. Chief Deputy District Attorney Andrew Lewis also asked for full restitution to reimburse authorities for the cost of investigating the hoax – an amount that could exceed $50,000.
“People around the world were watching this unfold,” he said. “Mr. Heene wasted a lot of manpower and a lot of money in wanting to get himself some publicity.”
He added, “Jay Leno said it best when he said, ‘This is copycat game.’ And people will copycat this event. (The Heenes) need to go to jail so people don’t do that.”
He portrayed the Heenes as growing increasingly desperate as their pitches for a reality TV show kept getting turned down by networks – and the family fell deeper into a financial hole. Lewis said the Heenes set in motion the balloon hoax in early October as a way to jumpstart the effort and get some attention.
They chose Oct. 15 because the weather was cooperating and the kids were home for school with parent-teacher conferences, allowing the Heenes to report that 6-year-old Falcon had floated away, Lewis said.
Once the parents were brought in for questioning, Richard Heene feigned sleep during the lie-detector test, claiming it was some sort of diabetic episode, Lewis said.
David Lane, Richard Heene’s attorney, pleaded for leniency with the judge and said that the couple “have learned a lesson they will never forget for the rest of their lives.” He also said that if someone has to go to jail, let it be Richard Heene and not his wife.
“That is his plea. That would be something of a Christmas miracle if that can occur,” he said.