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Balloon Boy Verdict: Tough, But Not Enough

The DA should have insisted on a lifetime fame ban for the couple

Karma finally caught up with Balloon Boy dad Richard Heene today, but the judge in the case got the verdict only half-right.

Heene and wife Mayumi were both sentenced to short jail terms and four years of probation, according to the AP. More interestingly, Judge Stephen Schapanski also said the couple couldn’t profit in any way from their hoax during their probation — no books, no reality shows, no paid interviews.

That’s as it should be, since, at its heart, this case has always been about Richard Heene’s addiction to the notion of fame. He’s an attention junkie, and the judge clearly is trying to make sure the fame he’s already gotten from fooling the world doesn’t lead to more riches.

Yet, there’s a case to be made that prosecutors in this case could have gone further. Since the Heenes worked out a plea deal, the DA should have insisted on a lifetime fame ban for the couple.

Forget about profiting. If you’re hooked on fame, money is secondary.

The best punishment would have been forcing the Heenes to give up any right to appear on camera or speak to a reporter.

Anywhere. Anytime. For any reason.

No "Larry King Live." No five years later interview with Oprah on her cable network. No YouTube videos showing off your latest science experiment.

As it is, Judge Schapanski probably was as strict as he could’ve been by ordering the Heenes not to profit while on probation. I’m not familiar with Colorado law, but it’s hard to imagine a judge having the power to completely prevent the Heenes from profiting from their crime for life.

In fact, one legal blogger, Marc Randazza, is already questioning whether Schapanski’s current restrictions will stand at all. Son of Sam laws have been struck down in some states, and while there’s been no challenge to similar legislation in Colorado, Randazza notes that the state’s law only allows judges to make criminals put monies gained from their crime into an escrow account for five years.

The profits are given first to victims (in this case– all of us?) and then the state, which can use it to pay for the criminal’s jail costs.

In the end, while punishment could have been tougher, the Heenes were held accountable. Future fame whores have been put on notice that it’s not OK to lie or pretend to be someone you’re really not in order to get on TV.

Unless, of course, you’re cast in a reality show.

But that’s a whole different post.