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Politics and Government

Colorado governor pardons parents behind “balloon boy” hoax, 16 others

Jared Polis said he was pardoning the balloon boy's parents, Mayumi Heene and Richard Heene, because "we are all ready to move past the spectacle from a decade ago"

Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at a news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday commuted the sentences of four people and pardoned 18 others, including the parents behind the infamous 2009 “balloon boy” hoax.

Polis said he was pardoning the balloon boy’s parents, Mayumi and Richard Heene, because “we are all ready to move past the spectacle from a decade ago.”

“Richard and Mayumi have paid the price in the eyes of the public, served their sentences, and it’s time for all of us to move on. It’s time to no longer let a permanent criminal record from the balloon boy saga follow and drag down the parents for the rest of their lives,” Polis said in a written statement.

In October 2009, the Heenes released a gas-filled, saucer-shaped balloon and reported to authorities that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was trapped inside of it. The truth was that Falcon was hiding in the Heenes’ Larimer County home, but before that discovery was made the effort to rescue the boy attracted worldwide attention as the balloon drifted over northern Colorado.

A CBS News clip on the balloon boy. (Via YouTube)

Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to false reporting to authorities and Richard Heene pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant. They both served jail time.

“You and your wife were involved in a very high profile incident that garnered attention across Colorado and across the country,” Polis, a Democrat, wrote in his pardon letter to Richard Heene. “You wrote to me that you have taught your three children to be honest and hardworking, and you have been diligently passing on your construction trade to your sons. I believe you and trust that the legal and social consequences you have suffered in the intervening years will prevent you from ever repeating your past mistakes.”

Richard Heene has denied that the balloon boy saga was ever a hoax.

Other clemency actions

Pardons were also granted by Polis to the following people:

  • Adrian Acosta, who pleaded guilty to marijuana possession in 2005
  • Jane Brueckner, who pleaded guilty misdemeanor harassment in 1999
  • John Buehler, who pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary in 1984
  • Darrel Carson, who pleaded distribution of a controlled substance in 1992
  • Thomas Crawford, who pleaded guilty to menacing in 1998
  • Kevin Fox, who pleaded guilty to obstructing a police officer in 1999
  • Chad Larsen, who pleaded guilty to marijuana distribution in 2003
  • Carlos Luna-Cano, who pleaded guilty to assault in 2014
  • Wayne Nguyen, who pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal trespass in 1997
  • Michael Nielsen, who pleaded guilty to attempted possession of a controlled substance in 2008
  • Timothy Ortiz, who pleaded guilty to prohibited use of a weapon in 2000
  • Esther Perez, who pleaded guilty to theft in 2006
  • Jeffrey Sempek, who pleaded guilty to theft in 2003
  • Beth Stone, who pleaded guilty to forgery in 2005 and trespass in 2006
  • Tracy Tomky, who pleaded guilty to manufacturing and possessing a controlled substance in 2002
  • Lisa White, who pleaded guilty to criminal attempt in 1982

Polis also commuted the sentences of four men: Fredric Dryer, William Goble, Frederick Harris and Anthony Martinez. They will be released on parole on Jan. 15.

Dryer was sentenced to 84 years in prison in 2015 for violating the Colorado Organized Crimes Act as part of a real estate Ponzi scheme. Some people lost their life savings in the scam.

“Thinking about this case last night, I wondered what makes you different than the people who put guns to victims’ heads?” Denver District Court Judge Anne Mansfield said as she sentenced Dryer, according to The Denver Business Journal. “Are the victims any less hurt?”

Polis said he was shortening the sentence because it’s one of the longest for a white-collar crime in Colorado history.

Frederic Dryer. (Colorado Department of Corrections photo)

“You have taken full accountability for your actions and recognize the mistakes you made in the past,” Polis wrote in his letter commuting Dryer’s sentence. “You are remorseful and ready to advance to a new phase of life.”

MORE: Read Gov. Jared Polis’ pardon and commutation letters.

Goble was sentenced in 1996 to 96 years in prison for the manufacture or sale of a controlled substance. He was 31 years old at the time.

Harris was also sentenced to 96 years in prison. The penalty was handed down in 2000 after he was convicted of distribution of a controlled substance.

Martinez faced the longest sentence of any of the men whose sentences were commuted. In 1989 he was ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison with the possibility of parole for second-degree burglary and for being a habitual criminal.

Polis cited Martinez’s age and failing health in his letter pardoning him. Martinez is being held at the Sterling Correctional Facility, which has had the state’s worst prison outbreak of coronavirus. More than 1,300 inmates there have caught the virus, 10 of whom have died. 

The ACLU of Colorado has been advocating for Martinez’s release.

Anthony Martinez. (Colorado Department of Corrections photo)

“In the case of Anthony Martinez, you have an 84-year old man who is wheelchair-bound and suffering from dementia,” Polis said in a written statement. “While his case highlights the need for reforming the state’s special needs parole process for him and others like him, at least I am able with my power as governor to be a last recourse to allow him to live his final years with his niece in Pennsylvania.”

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