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    Witness says he trusted detectives' evidence

    The former prosecutor says applications to extend bugging at the home of Steve and Marlene Aisenberg did not raise any questions.

    By GRAHAM BRINK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000


    TAMPA -- A former assistant state attorney testified Tuesday that he had no reason to question the evidence detectives brought to him when applying for extensions to continue bugging Steve and Marlene Aisenberg's home.

    Previous coverage
    Eric Myers, who is now a county judge, said there may have been some minor discrepancies in what the detectives wrote in the application and what appeared in the transcripts, and they may not have told him everything they had found. But taken in their entirety, the applications were correct and truthful.

    Besides, he said, it wasn't his job to investigate the investigators.

    "It's what they do as professionals," he said.

    Myers was the featured witness in the second day of testimony in the hearing to determine whether the investigators acted improperly when applying for the extensions.

    If they did, U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo could recommend that the taped statements acquired after they applied for the extensions could be thrown out, a potentially crippling scenario for the government's case.

    After Sabrina Aisenberg disappeared Nov. 24, 1997, her parents said someone must have crept into their home at night and taken the baby. A massive search was unsuccessful. No trace of the child has been found.

    A couple of weeks after Sabrina was reported missing, Hillsborough Chief Judge F. Dennis Alvarez signed a warrant allowing investigators to bug the Aisenberg home. Investigators returned to Alvarez twice to obtain extensions. The bugging lasted nearly three months.

    Federal prosecutors used statements acquired from the bugs to indict the Aisenbergs last year on charges of conspiracy and making false statements. Their lawyers have argued that many of the statements the prosecutors said were on the tapes were inaudible or taken out of context.

    This week's hearing, however, focuses on whether the investigators lied, omitted pertinent facts or misrepresented what they claimed were on the tapes in order to get Alvarez to extend the bugging.

    During questioning, Myers agreed that some of the transcripts from the tapes did not match exactly the wording the investigators used in the application to Alvarez. He also said that he knew some of the tapes were inaudible, but not enough to raise any serious red flags. He also told Aisenberg attorney Todd Foster that, depending on the interpretation, some of the wording in the reports submitted to Alvarez could be taken out of context.

    Foster asked Myers whether the investigators ever told him about witnesses who said Sabrina showed no signs of abuse in the days before she disappeared. In the applications, investigators said a home video of Sabrina showed that she had bruises on her face and hair torn from her scalp. The Aisenbergs dispute those claims and argue that the investigators should have told Alvarez about all the witnesses who said there was no abuse. Foster has called it, at best, an omission of pertinent facts; at worst, an outright lie.

    Monday, the judge heard from a handful of witnesses who claimed they saw no signs of abuse. Some had seen Sabrina the day before she disappeared.

    During testimony Tuesday, Marlene Aisenberg began weeping. She dabbed away tears as the witnesses described a happy, healthy child. She broke down again later when more photographs and video were shown of Sabrina.

    One of Tuesday's witnesses said Hillsborough sheriff's detectives kept asking her whether she was sure Sabrina had no bruises. They asked so many times that she felt intimidated, as if they wanted her to recant what she had said to agree with their theory.

    Another witness, Virginia Westberg, said they were looking for a particular answer that she wasn't willing to give.

    "I said, "I'm no expert but I don't see any (signs of abuse),' " she said.

    The hearing continues today and could last until next week.

    - Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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