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By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - The husband and wife who pleaded guilty to criminal charges for staging the 2009 "balloon boy" hoax, creating a global media sensation with a false report that their son had floated away in a makeshift dirigible, were pardoned on Wednesday by Colorado's governor.
In granting executive clemency to Richard Mayumi Heene, essentially a forgiveness of their crimes, Governor Jared Polis said the couple, now 59 and 56, had paid their debt to society for a "spectacle" that wasted law enforcement time and resources.
The couple drew worldwide attention when they reported on Oct. 15, 2009, that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, had been carried aloft by a homemade helium balloon that had become untethered from the family's backyard in Fort Collins, Colorado.
News footage showed the silver balloon, resembling a flying saucer, soaring over northeastern Colorado for 90 minutes, trailed by National Guard helicopters as authorities scrambled to reroute aviation traffic around Denver International Airport.
Millions were riveted to live coverage on television and the internet, watching as the balloon craft finally landed in a wheat field, with no one found aboard.
Falcon, the youngest of the couple's three children, ultimately turned up in the attic of the family's garage.
Investigators said the mother later admitted the stunt was aimed at gaining the family their own reality TV show.
The Heenes' account unraveled after an appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live" program, in which Falcon was asked why he stayed in hiding so long. Looking first to his parents, the boy answered: "You said that we did this for a show."
Richard Heene pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to influence a public servant, a felony, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. His spouse pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of filing a false report and was ordered to perform 20 hours of supervised community service.
The husband's lawyer, David Lane, told Reuters that the family, who now live in Florida, were "very grateful" to Polis, but he took a swipe at prosecutors in the case.
Lane said prosecutors told Richard Heene that unless he pleaded guilty to a felony, they would move to deport Mayumi, who was a Japanese citizen.
"Richard had absolutely no choice, so he took it."
The "balloon boy" case was among 18 pardons and four sentence commutations granted on Wednesday by Polis, a first-term Democrat.