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Aisenbergs say break-in attempt went unheeded

The incident, five blocks from their home, should have been examined more, a motion states.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2000

TAMPA -- Defense attorneys for Steven and Marlene Aisenberg claim in a legal motion filed Wednesday that authorities failed to properly investigate an attempted break-in close to the couple's home three days before they reported their infant daughter's disappearance.

The break-in attempt should have focused suspicion away from the Aisenbergs, the motion states.

Coming on top of another reported break-in attempt in the neighborhood, an unidentified boot print on their daughter Sabrina's crib skirt and the report of a dog barking, defense attorneys argue that investigators mistakenly failed to consider a suspect outside the Aisenberg household.

An affidavit filed in federal court Wednesday quotes Terry Desmond, a man who lives five blocks from the Aisenbergs' former Brandon residence. He states that someone bent back a screen on a rear window close to where his 4-month-old boy was sleeping.

Desmond didn't report the incident until after Sabrina Aisenberg was reported missing on Nov. 24, 1997. He gave a report to a sheriff's deputy but became concerned when deputies never dusted the window for fingerprints.

The Aisenbergs are awaiting trial on federal charges of lying about Sabrina's disappearance. Authorities suspect the couple of harming the girl, but concede they lack evidence to file a homicide charge. Sabrina has never been found.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said Wednesday that federal prosecutors would reply to the Aisenberg motions in court or in written filings. The Aisenbergs' lawyers won't comment. Wednesday's motions were filed to supplement earlier motions aimed at throwing out hundreds of secretly made government tapes of the Aisenbergs talking in their kitchen and bedroom.

The eavesdropping was authorized on the basis of sworn testimony from investigators. The Aisenbergs' attorneys, Barry Cohen and Todd Foster, contend that investigators lied when they claimed there was no unusual activity in the neighborhood at the time of Sabrina's disappearance and did so to justify eavesdropping. In fact, the motions argue, "numerous other investigative leads remained to be pursued which strongly indicated the presence of an intruder ... unidentified fingerprints found at points of entry to the Aisenberg home, unidentified hairs found in Sabrina's crib sheet, an unidentified footprint found at the foot of Sabrina's crib on the bed ruffle, an attempted break-in to another neighbors' (Tom and Maureen Hayward) home where an infant lived, a (sheriff's) dog track indicating that Sabrina was taken across the Aisenbergs' back yard, as well as another Aisenberg neighbor reporting her dog barking in the middle of the night and yet another neighbor reporting headlights coming into the Aisenberg cul-de-sac in the very early morning hours of the day of the disappearance."

The Aisenbergs were scheduled to go to trial in July, but defense attorneys recently indicated they plan to seek a postponement, citing the large number of tapes to evaluate.

-- Larry Dougherty can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or

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