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Aisenbergs' attorneys say tapes slow case


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 5, 2000

TAMPA -- Steven and Marlene Aisenberg were back in federal court Friday, but there was little progress in setting a date for their trial on charges they lied about the disappearance of their infant daughter, Sabrina, in 1997.

Defense attorneys said their preparations have been slowed by difficulties discerning the contents of more than 200 tapes of conversations that investigators secretly recorded of the Aisenbergs. One Aisenberg attorney, Todd Foster, compared listening to them to "trying to interpret an ancient language."

For their part, prosecutors said they had taken pains to identify which portions of the tapes contained the most explosive comments that were recited in an indictment against the Aisenbergs last fall: that Steven Aisenberg harmed his daughter and Marlene Aisenberg helped her husband cover it up.

The couple deny all wrongdoing and say their daughter was kidnapped from their Brandon home. She has never been found, despite an extensive search by sheriff's deputies.

After investigators conceded they had insufficient evidence to charge the couple with the baby's death, they charged them with lying to police about the disappearance.

The couple did not speak during the hearing. It was their first time before U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday, who will preside over their trial.

Defense attorneys said a trial date in June would be too early. They cited their difficulties in examining the tapes. They also indicated that they plan to file extensive motions challenging the legal basis for the secret taping of the couple's conversations in their kitchen and bedroom.

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