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Image: Mayumi Heene, Richard Heene, Falcon Heene
David Zalubowski  /  AP
Richard Heene, center, follows his son, Falcon, right, as Mayumi Heene blocks the door as they leave their home in Fort Collins, Colo., early on Sunday.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 10/19/2009 9:18:51 AM ET 2009-10-19T13:18:51

Richard and Mayumi Heene may soon face charges after being accused of trying to whip up a media frenzy with a tall tale about their son floating away in a makeshift flying saucer — but Richard Heene’s lawyer told TODAY Monday that the father of the now-infamous “balloon boy” should not suffer the public indignity of being led away in handcuffs.

“I’ve said, ‘Look, these folks are willing to turn themselves in the minute that you give me the phone call. I will have them in your office within 10 minutes, all right?’ ” attorney David Lane told Matt Lauer.

Lane added that he told authorities: “Do not do the perp walk for media consumption and arrest these people in full view of their children. That’s child abuse. That’s traumatic for kids.”

The ‘Great Balloon Hoax’
Four days after the Heene family captured the nation’s attention as law enforcement went on a desperate chase for the runaway balloon constructed by their amateur-scientist dad — in the mistaken notion that the Heenes’ 6-year-old son, Falcon, was trapped inside — the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department is close to charging Richard and wife Mayumi Heene in what is being billed as the “Great Balloon Hoax.”

Police interviewed the Heenes and searched their home over the weekend. Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said his department has asked prosecutors to consider possible charges of conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, false reporting to a public official and attempt to influence public officials.

Video: Sheriff calls balloon saga a ‘hoax’ Alderden said the Heenes “put on a very good show for us, and we bought it” when they said they feared Falcon was inside the balloon as it headed into the heavens last Thursday. After a five-hour wild-goose chase, Richard Heene said the family discovered Falcon hiding in the rafters of the family garage — a story that authorities began to doubt when Falcon said in a CNN interview that night, “We did this for a show.” Speculation ran high that the family was trying to draw attention to themselves in hopes of landing a reality TV show.

Rush to judgment?
On TODAY Monday, Lane said that any talk of criminal charges is speculative at this point: “We’re in a position of being a batter in a batter’s box waiting for a pitcher to throw a pitch. We can’t swing until the pitcher throws a ball.” The lawyer cautioned against a rush to judgment against the Heenes, who have been known to have a fascination with the limelight after the family appeared on the reality show “Wife Swap.”

Lauer told Lane the situation looks bad for the Heenes from a public relations viewpoint, given the police assertion that the family alerted the media before they called the local police. But Lane questioned whether that was actually the case: “Multiple telephones were being used in all of this. The word being put out by the sheriff — I’m not convinced that is in fact the reality of what happened.”

Still, the sheriff’s department spent the weekend blowing holes in the Heenes’ version of events. It has questioned the Heenes’ statement that Falcon had been hiding in the rafters pouting after Richard had scolded him, with Alderden saying, “For all we know, he may have been two blocks down the road playing in a swing in a city park.”

“Wouldn’t you admit it smells pretty bad?” Lauer asked Lane Monday.

Lane pointed to the late Richard Jewell — the unjustly suspected pipe bomber at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta — as an example of someone who was tried in the media before he ever got a day in court.

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“If you could go talk to Richard Jewell, who is unfortunately deceased, all the neighbors were clucking their tongues about, ‘Oh, he seemed like such a nice man,’ ” Lane said. “Well, it turned out he was such a nice man and he was wrongly accused. [Now] everyone is clucking their tongues about Richard Heene and what a terrible man he must be. Video: 911 call released in balloon case

“The presumption of innocence exists for a reason in this country,” Lane added.

High price tag
Police claim the supposed balloon hoax ended up costing plenty. The Denver International Airport was temporarily shut down, and two National Guard helicopters were employed to first chase the balloon, then search for several hours for Falcon, who was feared to have fallen out of the strange contraption.

Lane said his first concern is still the well-being of the Heene children, who include Falcon’s older brothers, Ryan and Bradford.

“If law enforcement arrest mom and dad in the presence of kids — whether mom or dad are guilty, innocent, or somewhere in between — that’s child abuse,” Lane said. “There’s no excuse for law enforcement to contact the media, to bring them out in full view of their kids on TV, and arrest mom and dad.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Heene attorney: ‘Presumption of innocence’

  1. Closed captioning of: Heene attorney: ‘Presumption of innocence’

    >> colorado, thanks very much. richard lane is the lawyer for the heenes, good morning. let me go over some of the possible charges. conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, false reporting to a public official , attempting to influence a public officer. these are felonies. does mr. heene still maintain he is completely innocent?

    >> well, absolutely. and at this point we're in a position of being a -- stand the in the batter's box waiting for a pitcher to throw a pitch. you can't swing until the pitcher tloetz ball. until i can look at what the evidence is in this case, we're left in the dark in terms of what the sheriff's department claims they've got.

    >> i don't want to pretend as if i've seen any of that evidence. i certainly have not. but let's talk about some of the things that puzzle people and bug me, quite frankly. this idea that he thinks his son is floating away in the balloon and the first call he makes is not to the police or fire department but to a local tv station. you're a father. you've got three children. i know they're grown right now. is that the first call you'd make?

    >> let me just say this. this is the word put out by the sheriff again. i'm not convinced that that is in fact the reality of what happened.

    >> who did he call first?

    >> both telephones were being used in all of this. i'm not going to get into any comments made about my client about the state of the evidence. i will simply say that with multiple phones being used -- i know that's the word the sheriff's putting out. let me see what they've got.

    >> you make a good point, mr. lane. i think that's good. in the media we are reporting what we're being told by the sheriff's department right now but we're also reporting what we're being told by people who have known the heenes over some period of time. so you're a lawyer. your job is to give him the best possible defense. but if you were hearing what i'm hearing, what people around the country are hearing right now, wouldn't you think it smells pretty bad?

    >> you know, if you could, go talk to richard jewell who's unfortunately, deceased. all the neighbors were clucking their tongues about, oh, he seemed like such a nice man. turned out he was such a nice man and he was wrongly accused. the presumption of innocence exists for a reason in this country. unfortunately, nobody in america believes in the presumption of innocence and so everybody's cluck their tongues about richard heene and what a terrible man he must be. well, you know, until i can see some solid evidence against them -- and right now there are no charges pending. all they need to slap the cuffs on hip is probable cause to believe he's committed a crime. all right?

    >> have they given you any indication they plan to do that in the near future?

    >> you know, you talk about worrying about the kids. let me just say that i've reached out to law enforcement in larimer county and said, look, these folks are willing to turn themselves in the minute you give me a phone call . i will have them in your office within ten minutes. all right? do not do the perp walk for media consumption and arrest these people in full vuf their children. that's child abuse . that's traumatic for kids. call me, i'll have them turn themselves in.

    >> you issued a statement saying "i sent law enforcement this message about turning themselves in this an effort to avoid the public spectacle in having the police publicly arrest two people who are presumed innocent perhaps even in the presence of their children. of course if this does turn out -- it's hypothetical, mr. lane. but if it does turn out to be a hoax, then those words are going to sound foolish because it would be the heenes who put their children in the middle of a public spectacle and humiliated them.

    >> well, no, it's law enforcement arresting mom and dad in the presence of kids, whether mom and dad are guilty, innocent or somewhere in between, that's child abuse when you have parents who are willing to turn themselves in. there is no excuse for law enforcement to contact the media, bring them out and in full view of their kids and on tv arrest mom and dad .

    >> but you have to understand the other side of this, mr. lane. if in fact it turns out that the heenes put their children on television and made them a part of this scheme, which included lying to the public, that would be child abuse as well. wouldn't it?

    >> you know, that is for social services to determine. putting their kids on tv , there's certainly plenty of worst cases of child abuse that i can talk about within three seconds. but i'm not concerned about anything other than how law enforcement is going to or not going to follow the law of the state of colorado and constitution of the united states . to me, when you have people willing to turn themselves in, you don't go out and arrest them in front of their kids.

    >> point well-taken. david lane , the attorney for richard heene , mr. lane, i appreciate your time this morning.

    >> thank you for having me.

    >> not the last we're going

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