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Did balloon mom confess to protect kids?

If Mayumi Heene confessed to a hoax involving her boy in a runaway baloon — as alleged in a search warrant  — it may have been to keep her children from being taken away,  legal experts say.
Balloon Boy Mom
Mayumi Heene with her oldest son Bradford at their house in Fort Collins, Colo.Ed Andrieski / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Friends say the mother of the little boy at the center of the Colorado balloon case is devoted — even subservient — to her inventor husband and her kids, so why would she allegedly tell sheriff's deputies that the whole thing was a hoax?

If Mayumi Heene made that confession — as alleged in a search warrant for the family's home — it may have been to keep her children from being taken away from her, or to spare them from having to testify against her husband, Richard Heene, legal experts said Monday.

"When it comes to incarceration, the bonds of affection only go so far," said Scott Robinson, a Denver trial lawyer and legal analyst.

Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden has said he'll recommend criminal charges of conspiracy, making a false report to authorities and attempting to influence a public servant. He's also asked that child protective services investigate the children's well-being.

More information requested
The county district attorney's office received the case from the sheriff's department Monday but said it had requested more information. Richard Heene's lawyer, David Lane, also asked prosecutors Monday to probe whether Alderden violated state privacy laws when he told reporters child protective services had been contacted.

Alderden claims the Oct. 15 flight was a stunt to generate publicity for the Heenes. Both Mayumi and Richard Heene placed calls claiming 6-year-old Falcon may have been inside the balloon as it drifted 50 miles across northern Colorado. The world watched with horror as the balloon landed without the boy — then worried that he may have fallen thousands of feet to his death.

Falcon was found hiding in the rafters of the family's garage.

The Heenes have publicly denied any hoax. But a search warrant affidavit said Mayumi Heene, 45, told an investigator on Oct. 17 that the balloon was released intentionally and that the couple knew Falcon was hiding.

According to the affidavit released late Friday, Heene said the stunt was intended to make the family "more marketable for future media interest" and that the three boys had been instructed to lie to authorities and the media.

Mayumi Heene's lawyer, Lee Christian, didn't respond to several telephone messages Monday.

Lane dismissed the alleged statement as hearsay, adding that it could only be used against Mayumi Heene, not her 48-year-old husband, unless she were to take the stand against him and submit to cross examination.

Lane wouldn't discuss whether the Heenes were still together.

"I'm not their marriage counselor," he said.

Robinson said it's not unusual for spouses to turn against each other when facing criminal charges. He said Mayumi Heene may have made the confession with an eye toward helping herself and for that reason lawyers could call its reliability into question.

May not be admissible
The alleged statement may not be admissible in court, cautioned Karen Steinhauser, a former Denver prosecutor, if Heene wasn't warned of her rights to have a lawyer or not to speak — or if she was threatened with the loss of her children.

The alleged statement doesn't mean that Heene would willingly testify against her husband should charges be filed, said Steinhauser, now an adjunct professor at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law.

Spouses generally can't be forced to testify against each other because of laws giving privilege to conversations between husbands and wives, similar to those protecting lawyers from talking about their discussions with a client. Colorado and many other states make exceptions to that.

In Colorado, spouses can be called to the stand to discuss their private conversations if they concern plotting a crime, Steinhauser said.

Wendy Murphy, a Boston attorney and victims advocate, speculated one incident may have prompted Mayumi Heene to cooperate with investigators if she thought that would help protect her children.

In February, a deputy responding to a 911 hang-up call suspected that a fight may have taken place at the Heene home, but no charges were filed. Alderden has said officials unsuccessfully tried to persuade Mayumi Heene to go with her sons to a safe house.

"If she really is in a volatile relationship, then no matter what happens with the balloon boy case, she benefits," Murphy said.