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.”
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