Attorney for ‘Balloon’ Family Speaks Out
LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. - The Heene family attorney, David Lane, is making the media rounds Monday morning discussing his clients' case and their willingness to turn themselves in to authorities.
Lane's television interviews come the day after the Larimer County Sheriff's Office said they had evidence the "balloon boy" incident was an orchestrated publicity stunt by Richard and Mayumi Heene to promote a reality TV show. The sheriff's office says it is recommending charges.
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden announced Sunday at a news conference that deputies would be recommending a number of charges in the incident, including conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, false reporting and attempt to influence a public official.
"Clearly we were manipulated by the family and the media was manipulated by the family," Alderden said.
Alderden says if the Larimer County District Attorney's office goes forward with the charges, deputies will seek restitution to cover its costs of the search. The dollar amount that would be sought was not immediately available.
The most serious charges carry a maximum sentence of six years in prison for Richard and Mayumi Heene and a $500,000 fine. Alderden says all three children knew of the Thursday hoax, but likely won't face charges because of their ages. The oldest son is 10.
Lane, a high-profile Denver defense attorney, discussed the possible charges during multiple television interviews Monday morning.
"We're not sure what charges he's even looking at yet. I've said repeatedly I need to see what evidence they've got," Lane explained. "I mean, the sheriff doesn't share this stuff with me until they have to which is after charges are filed and then I can sit down, look very carefully, and see what they've got."
Lane added, "The whole Heene family feels that they are in fact under siege at this point."
Social Services is also investigating the case.
"It is possible that social services could come in now and take the kids until it's proven that these parents are fit," Scott Robinson, KUSA-TV legal analyst said. "Termination of parental rights is always a possibility when a parent commits a crime and involves a child in the commission of the offense."
Lane also spoke about the involvement of Social Services in the case.
"Anytime you have a situation where the parents are being scrutinized by law enforcement, Social Services can start looking around into things but I don't know of any allegations that any child has been abused in any way," he said. "There's no allegation that these kids are anything but very well loved and dear to their parents' hearts."
Lane says this is a "nightmare for the family," and that the Heenes are willing to turn themselves in to face any charges.
"These folks are absolutely willing to turn themselves in. I don't want to see a perp walk done for media consumption in this case. I don't think it's humane to arrest people in front of their children, especially when they've agreed to turn themselves in," Lane explained. "So, I have law enforcement telling me that they will allow them to turn themselves in upon the issuance of a warrant."
The recommended charges stem from the incident on Thursday that captured worldwide attention when an experimental balloon, owned by the Heene family and reportedly carrying 6-year-old Falcon Heene, floated across the state. The balloon traveled about 50 miles while viewers from around the world watched only to discover the balloon was empty when it landed harmlessly in a freshly-plowed wheat field near Denver International Airport, next to an army of awaiting emergency vehicles.
"On the bizarre meter, this rates a 10," Alderden said.
According to Alderden, Richard Heene, the father of the family, came to the sheriff's office voluntarily on Saturday under the guise of picking up what remained of the aircraft.
Alderden says that's when they were able to separate the family and interview them each individually. The sheriff says due to Colorado Rule 3.6 and 3.8, he is not allowed to talk about scientific evidence, including whether anyone took a lie detector test or whether the office was able to obtain a confession. However, he says they have enough evidence that they are certain the event was a hoax and a publicity stunt.
Deputies say they have evidence of conspiracy between Richard and Mayumi Heene and are looking into whether any non-news media outlets were in on it as well.
Alderden says the Heenes met in California in an acting class and the couple "put on a very good show for us, and we bought it."
The recommended charges were an out-and-out change from the tune the sheriff was singing immediately following the incident on Thursday when he grinned and chuckled in relief, saying he had no reason to believe the incident was a hoax, adding that children often hide when they're afraid of getting in trouble.
Since Thursday, Alderden's department has been so inundated by media requests, he says his department has likely spent more money dealing with the media than it did on the emergency response.
However, Alderden and his investigators became suspicious after Falcon turned to his dad during a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer when asked why he didn't come out from his hiding place.
"You said we did this for a show," Falcon said to his dad.
Falcon later got sick on two separate TV interviews on Friday when asked why he hid and vomited live on NBC's Today Show.
Alderden plans to meet with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Aviation Administration this week to determine what impact the incident had on air travel at Denver International Airport and says federal charges could stem from that if public transportation was affected.
It is not clear when arrests would be made.