We have another Colorado classic here. This is the greatest American media hoax since John Mark Karr deceived the Boulder DA and the media about what happened to another Colorado six year old.
Unlike the tragic JonBenét Ramsey murder case in nearby Boulder, the Balloon Boy matter is vastly less serious and mysterious. The hoax part was evident last Thursday afternoon from the moment six-year-old Falcon Heene suddenly appeared alive and well. We had already posted on our KHOW radio web site Richard Heene's My Space Page (he has an ambition to interview an alien), all the Heene YouTubes (including his segment called "Real or Fake") and the Wife Swap reality TV show links.
When Falcon let loose the truth on prime time to Wolf Blitzer, even Barney Fife could have figured it out. By his own later admission, this is the first moment the light started to come on for lead local investigator Sheriff Jim Alderden.
This was a Heene hatched hoax, planned for maximum news coverage when it occurred and for utmost publicity for many months to come. If law enforcement raises the stakes and brings some iffy felony charges, the drama will grow all the more, much to the delight of media junkie Richard Heene. Look at Richard Heene's hiring (I doubt much if any money was paid) of David Lane (Geraldo At Large, the Today Show and GMA within a day of being retained), Colorado's smart version of Mark Geragos, a lawyer who loves the spotlight.
It takes one to know one. Or two. Or a whole family of publicity junkies.
Larimer County Sherriff Jim Alderden is the closest thing we have in Colorado to Arizona's infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Jim is a righteous right wing Republican who has sought and received publicity in his campaigns to save Christmas and ensure maximum gun sales in the Fort Collins area. Did you see that American flag stars and stripes shirt that Sheriff Alderden wore for the cameras on Saturday when he first told the world to expect charges? Perhaps that shirt was a legal violation.
Did you catch Alderden"s Sunday presser? It was a spectacle that went on for about an hour with Sheriff Jim loving every minute of it. Here are some of the highlights:
1. The Heenes are actors who had me and my men fooled with their great acting, but after the CNN confession by Falcon, I figured it out and then I started acting like I couldn't figure it out in order to fool the Heenes.
2. My lying and acting were good enough to trick the Heenes into coming to headquarters which allowed us to interrogate and polygraph them.
3. Colorado law makes it illegal and unethical for me to talk about confessions or the results of polygraphs but nothing is going to stop me from strongly implying here that the Heenes failed polygraphs and provided confessions.
4. I lied to the press for a higher purpose, but I did secretly tell some people in the press the truth so that I could maintain my credibility and good name.
5. You can tell I am telling the truth now because I am willing to now publicly swear in the name of John Wayne.
6. I am going to give a statement and then take a few questions, but in reality, I will stay for about an hour and let the international media ask me every possible question and then I will take you on a tour of the balloon evidence.
7. The charges are going to include creative felonies that my sergeant has come up with even though I know that the charging decision is not mine to make.
8. I will not be doing any press interviews about this except for Bill O'Reilly.
10. I am the top cop who understands and solved this case even though I pronounce the suspect family's name as Haney, instead of using the long e which is the proper pronunciation.
11. No one is going to jail here because the prisons are crowded (and we have a Democratic governor and legislature that don't let us lock up enough people).
So what are the appropriate charges and legal repercussions? False Reporting (CRS 18-8-11) is a no-brainer. It is also a low-level misdemeanor. Recently, in media reports that Heene could have seen, a Marine veteran who did not want to go back to war faked his disappearance on a Boulder mountain which led to a massive and expensive search effort. Lance Hering plead guilty to False Reporting after he was found AWOL on the West Coast. No jail was imposed even though Hering had previously been in trouble with the law.
The most interesting felony charge being discussed is Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor (CRS 18-6-701). This may well fit. In the early 1990s, I prosecuted a mother who gave her 15-year-old son an automatic weapon that he later used to kill another teen. Possession of an automatic weapon was a municipal ordinance violation in Denver and the Colorado law says that helping a minor break any criminal law (even misdemeanor False Reporting) is a class four felony.
Most interestingly, Sheriff Jim brought up the class four felony charge of Attempting to Influence a Public Servant (CRS 18-8-306). That little used Colorado law reads as follows with the pertinent portions italicized:
Any person who attempts to influence any public servant by means of deceit or by threat of violence or economic reprisal against any person or property, with the intent thereby to alter or affect the public servant's decision, vote, opinion, or action concerning any matter which is to be considered or performed by him or the agency or body of which he is a member, commits a class 4 felony.
It is akin to the federal law which makes it a serious crime to lie to federal investigators. Ironically, both David Lane (Richard Heene's lawyer) and I were quoted about this with the recent Zazi terrorism investigation that occurred in Colorado.
We have not seen this law used much in Colorado and certainly not against accusers making false accusations. Theoretically, this felony could be used against people who lie to avoid process servers or people who cause any false alarms.
The DA in Larimer County, Larry Abrahamson (whose office and Abrahamson personally are currently being sued in federal court by a client of David Lane), is going to take his time and be more careful than Sheriff Jim. Do not expect charges to be filed this week. There may be consideration of possible state Child Abuse charges (CRS 18-6-401) given that mental damage being done intentionally, knowingly or recklessly to a child is punishable. It may well be that federal authorities get involved which might mean a U.S. District Court grand jury and indictment. The FAA does not much like altering flight plans based on a hoax.
Will the Heene family remain intact? Child Protection is involved now and it will lead to great talk radio about whether the kids should remain in that environment.
One thing is for sure. The media circus that Richard Heene planned and hoped for will continue for a quite a long ratings winning run -- kind of like a successful TV reality show.