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Parents of ‘Balloon Boy’ Are Pardoned by Colorado’s Governor

In 2009, the authorities chased a silver helium balloon resembling a U.F.O. as it soared over Northern Colorado, fearing that a young boy was trapped inside. The frantic rescue effort unfolded on live television, but when the balloon landed, there was no boy inside.

The 6-year-old boy was found hiding in an attic above the garage in his family’s house in Fort Collins, Colo. His parents’ story — that they feared he was trapped inside the balloon as it floated away from their backyard — appeared to unravel that night in a CNN interview in which the boy, Falcon, said that “we did this for the show.”

On Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado granted full and unconditional pardons to Falcon’s parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, who had been accused of concocting a hoax to generate interest in a potential reality TV show.

In a statement, Mr. Polis said, “We are all ready to move past the spectacle from a decade ago that wasted the precious time and resources of law enforcement officials and the general public.”

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Heene maintained that his family believed at the time that Falcon, now 17, was in the balloon, and that the news media did not give him a chance to prove his innocence. The pardon, he said, “was the best news I’d ever heard in my entire life.”

Mr. Heene pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a felony, and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Ms. Heene pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false report and spent 20 days in jail. The couple were ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution, The Associated Press reported.

“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,” Mr. Polis said. “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.”

The Heenes reported Falcon missing on Oct. 15, 2009. The family said they believed that Falcon was in the saucer-shaped balloon, which Mr. Heene had been building, because Falcon had been near it right before it came loose and flew away.

The balloon, about 20 feet wide and seven feet long, soared thousands of feet in the air and flew more than 60 miles over a mostly rural swath of Northern Colorado as winds reached 20 miles per hour at times.

Traffic at Denver International Airport was halted as dozens of agencies joined in the rescue effort, including the National Guard, which deployed two helicopters.

After the boy was found safe at home, Jim Alderden, the Larimer County sheriff at the time, told reporters that “the angst and anguish this family was experiencing was genuine and the relief they experienced when he reappeared was genuine.”

He added, “I can’t imagine he would have been instructed to hide by his parents.”

But days later, in an interview with Wolf Blitzer of CNN, Mr. Alderden called the episode a “hoax.” Investigators, he said, believed that the rescue “was a publicity stunt” by the family to market themselves for a future reality television show.

Before the balloon escapade, the family had appeared on “Wife Swap,” a reality television show in which two women swap lives and families for two weeks.

A lawyer for Mr. Heene, David Lane, said on Thursday that Mr. Heene had a strong defense but was coerced into pleading guilty.

“The prosecutors in this case came to me and said that if Richard doesn’t take a felony conviction and do 30 days in jail, we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure Mayumi is deported,” Mr. Lane said. (Ms. Heene is a native of Japan.)

“I know I could’ve beat it if we had fought it,” Mr. Heene said.

The district attorney’s office in Larimer County, where the Heenes pleaded guilty, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After the convictions, the Heenes moved to north-central Florida, where they have home-schooled their three sons. Mr. Heene said their children were doing “exceptionally well.”

Mr. Heene said that the pardon would allow him to get a general contractor’s license in Florida, and that he planned to apply to appear on the entrepreneurial reality show “Shark Tank.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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