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Expert declares Aisenberg evidence inaudible

Damaging statements on tapes made of Steven and Marlene Aisenberg can't be heard, he says.

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2000


TAMPA -- A prominent audiotape expert hired by defense lawyers for Steven and Marlene Aisenberg says he cannot hear many of the explosive comments attributed to the couple by federal prosecutors investigating the disappearance of their daughter Sabrina.

Former FBI agent Bruce Koenig, who analyzed the Linda Tripp tapes for Ken Starr, said in an affidavit filed Monday that key portions of the Aisenberg tapes secretly made by investigators are unintelligible.

Among the statements Koenig stated he couldn't hear on the tapes were Steven Aisenberg saying "I wish I hadn't harmed her," "It was the cocaine," and "We need to discuss the way that we can beat the charge." Prosecutors attributed all those comments to Steven Aisenberg when they unsealed charges against the couple last year.

Koenig also stated he couldn't hear Marlene Aisenberg telling her husband that "The baby's dead and buried! It was found dead because you did it!" and "I just can't take the rap for this."

The Aisenbergs' lawyers, Barry Cohen and Todd Foster, filed the affidavit as part of a motion claiming prosecutorial misconduct and a motion for an audibility hearing.

The lawyers want to argue directly to the judge that the tapes are too unintelligible to be presented to a jury and should therefore be thrown out of court. The tapes apparently are the heart of the government's case, because Sabrina was never found.

Defense attorneys and the expert declined comment through a spokesman Monday. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office also declined comment, saying prosecutors hadn't received the affidavit yet.

Koenig's affidavit does not address all the damaging comments the indictment says the Aisenbergs made. It doesn't address Marlene Aisenberg saying she doesn't like lying to her father about Sabrina's disappearance. It doesn't address her comment about "them f------ pictures, them f------ pictures in that from video Sabrina," apparently in reference to alleged injuries that investigators said were captured on film.

The Aisenbergs are awaiting trial on charges of lying about the disappearance of their 5-month-old daughter in 1997. They said Sabrina was kidnapped. They appeared on national television shows to repeat claims they were innocent of any wrongdoing.

Investigators took a different view, first searching ponds around the former Brandon house for Sabrina's body, then hiding listening devices in the couple's kitchen and bedroom. They suspected the couple of murder, but said they lacked the evidence to file charges stronger than lying.

Trial had been scheduled for July. But defense attorneys are seeking more time.

Former prosecutors now in defense practice in Tampa said the findings by Koenig could spell trouble for the prosecution's case.

"He is probably No. 1 in the world -- he is the man to see with regard to tape authentication," said Ed Page, a former member of Ken Starr's team who worked with Koenig on the Linda Tripp tapes, as well as tapes offered in evidence against HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. Koenig has analyzed tapes from the investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

"He is not some Joe off the street saying he can't hear it," Page said. "That's a really big problem."

Page estimated that prosecutors paid Koenig $150 to $200 an hour for his work as a private consultant on the Tripp tapes. Koenig's Aisenberg affidavit states he spent about 30 hours preparing and listening to tapes from the case.

Former prosecutor John Fitzgibbons said: "It's getting to be an interesting game of chicken here. Somebody is just dead wrong."

"Whoever is wrong will have catastrophic consequences for their case," Fitzgibbons said. "Their credibility will be shot."

- Larry Dougherty can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or dougherty@sptimes.com

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