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Doctor denies determining Sabrina was abused

Her testimony conflicts with earlier contentions by Aisenberg investigators.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2000

TAMPA -- Defense attorneys continued to pick at the government's case against Steve and Marlene Aisenberg on Friday, getting a doctor to admit she never told detectives she was sure the Aisenbergs' baby had been abused before her disappearance.

The testimony came during the fifth day of a hearing to determine whether investigators lied or misrepresented facts in obtaining permission to continue bugging the Aisenbergs' Brandon home.

Prosecutors used comments the investigators said were on the surveillance tapes to indict the Aisenbergs on federal charges of conspiracy and making false statements. But even those statements are in dispute, as some of the tapes are hard to hear.

U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo will have to decide whether investigators acted improperly.

If so, he could recommend that the tapes be suppressed, which would be a heavy blow to the government's case. The hearing could last most of next week.

After Sabrina Aisenberg disappeared on 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.

Investigators grew suspicious of the Aisenbergs and decided to bug their home. In the applications to obtain a warrant, they painted a picture of Sabrina being abused in the days before her parents reported her missing.

They included in the applications a statement from Dr. Laleh Posey, who had looked at photos made from a family videotape, that in her expert opinion their were bruises on Sabrina's face and hair missing from her head.

On Friday, Posey testified that she told the investigators that it was possible the dark spots on Sabrina's face were bruises, but their also could be other explanations. Posey said she never told anyone that she was certain they were bruises.

Posey went on to say that the investigators never told her that several witnesses had seen the baby in the days before her disappearance and that none of them had seen any bruises. Posey also didn't know about the Aisenbergs' hairdresser, who had not seen anything that suggested abuse regarding the thinning and missing hair.

Posey told the judge that such witness statements would have been relevant in making an abuse assessment.

Posey said she was not shown the entire videotape upon which she made her assessment. Instead, detectives showed her only the parts they wanted her to see.

As she watched the entire video in court Friday, Posey saw Sabrina happily crawling on the floor, smiling and playing with her brother. Marlene Aisenberg could be heard cooing and telling the baby "Come on pretty girl" and using other terms of affection.

Posey agreed with Aisenberg attorney Todd Foster that Sabrina's behavior on the tape suggested she was happy, not a victim of abuse. Mrs. Aisenberg wept as she watched the video and heard the testimony.

On Monday, the prosecution's audio expert is expected to testify.

In the extension applications, the investigators used the tapes to quote the Aisenbergs making statements such as: "Our tiny baby didn't suffer," "I didn't say nothing," and "You cannot trust a soul." They said the incriminating statements warranted continued bugging.

Defense attorneys have argued that the statements cannot be heard or were taken out of context. The expert, Anthony Pellicano, is expected to say that he has enhanced the tapes and the statements, indeed, are intelligible.

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