The Colorado couple accused of carrying out a bizarre hoax involving their son and a huge balloon is “not running from the law” and deserves the presumption of innocence, their attorney said Monday.
“The sheriff having a press conference saying that they’re guilty does not make them so,” David Lane told CNN’s “American Morning.” Authorities say the event — in which the tearful couple claimed their 6-year-old may have been trapped in the flying-saucer-like contraption floating through the air — was staged. Richard and Mayumi Heene had met in a Hollywood acting school and pursued fame for their family in the world of reality TV, Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said. Lane, asked Monday by CNN about his client’s state of mind, said it was “what you would expect someone’s state of mind to be after law enforcement searched your house, seized your property, held a press conference announcing you’re about to be charged with felony criminal charges. Your state of mind would be rather upset and you would feel somewhat under siege, which is exactly how the family feels at this point.” Watch how attorney says family is dealing with hoax allegations During the incident Thursday, as millions worldwide watched live TV coverage of the contraption floating above northern Colorado, authorities did not pick up on any deceptive behavior, Alderden said. But that night, during an interview with CNN’s “Larry King Live,” the boy, Falcon, gave authorities an “Aha! moment,” Alderden said. “You guys said we did this for the show,” Falcon said in the interview, when his father asked him why he had not come out from hiding when his parents were looking for him. Watch how boy explain balloon incident Richard and Mayumi Heene said their son was simply confused. But authorities enacted a “game plan” of getting the truth, Alderden said. The plan included misleading the media on Friday when Alderden said authorities still believed the incident was not a hoax. They wanted to keep the couple’s trust, Alderden said.
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Investigators pursued separate interviews and polygraph tests with the Heene parents Saturday, then searched the couple’s home early Sunday for computer records, phone records, video recordings, and other potential evidence, Alderden said. “The sheriff put both of them on a box, and they have not shared with us whether or not they passed or failed,” Lane told “American Morning” on Monday. Polygraphs are not admissible in court, Lane added. Alderden said that under Colorado law, authorities cannot announce whether polygraph tests were taken — only that authorities pursued them. The sheriff, at Sunday’s news conference, said the investigation was still under way and that charges would likely soon follow, including for several felonies: conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and attempting to influence a public servant. The family will likely also be charged with filing a false police report, which is a misdemeanor, Alderden said. He added that authorities plan to seek restitution for the expenses incurred in the wild goose chase for Falcon. Since authorities aren’t required to share evidence until charges are actually filed, Lane said he could not lay out the Heenes’ defense. “Until that point… I’m shooting in the dark,” he said, adding, “If they have probable cause to make an arrest, then make an arrest and give me the evidence.” Alderden, speaking at a news conference Sunday, said authorities are concerned about the safety of all three Heene children, ages 6, 8, and 10. Authorities spoke with Mayumi Heene about domestic violence and the children’s safety, Alderden said. “But we didn’t have enough that would allow us or Child Protection Services to physically take the kids from that environment.” There was a 911 call from the home earlier this year that led authorities to a “suspicious circumstance” that Alderden said may have involved “domestic violence, perhaps against the wife.” Lane told CNN affiliate KMGH on Sunday that he has “no reason to believe they’re anything but loving parents.” Speaking to CNN Monday, Lane said the Heene children had been in his office Sunday, and that by his own observations as a father of three, “They seem to be perfectly, normal, happy, well-adjusted kids that are being insulated from this process as much as possible.” During a round of live TV interviews Friday morning, Falcon had been sick, which many speculate was because he was so upset over the incident. One of the questions that remains unanswered is where Falcon was as the balloon flew overhead. On Friday, Alderden said it had been determined that the boy was hiding in an attic in the garage. Now, authorities are unsure. Alderden said the boy may not have even been in the home. Watch how boys was supposed to be in balloon The Heenes have previously appeared on the ABC program “Wife Swap.” Richard Heene also chases storms, brings his family along and takes videos. TLC, which produces the show “Jon and Kate Plus 8” — told CNN the Heenes “approached us months ago” about a possible show, “and we passed.” Heene has been described as a meteorologist, but his education ended at the high school level, Alderden said.
The sheriff said investigators also want to interview 25-year-old researcher Robert Thomas who worked with Heene for about two months last spring. Thomas was paid by the gossip site Gawker.com to write about his experience with Heene for a story published on Saturday. Watch former assistant discuss Heene family In an interview arranged with the help of Gawker, Thomas told CNN that at one point they were talking about the Roswell UFO incident of the late 1940s, when Heene said it would be easy to cook up “a media stunt that would be equally profound as Roswell, and we could do so with nothing more than a weather balloon and some controversy.”