Parents' stories trouble police
By MARTY ROSEN
©St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 1998
Hillsborough sheriff's investigators launched an unusual public
counterattack Thursday in the case of missing baby Sabrina Aisenberg,
indicating at a news conference that they have serious suspicions
about the child's parents.
Despite an investigation so broad it has encompassed 31 states,
702 leads and more than 1,200 interviews, "we still come back
to the community, we still come back to Hillsborough County,"
said sheriff's Maj. Gary Terry.
Terry's remarks, the first significant release of information
about the investigation, came a week after Marlene and Steve Aisenberg
broke their silence in a spate of interviews with local reporters
and national news shows.
Terry suggested it was unlikely a stranger could have targeted
Sabrina for abduction, broken into the family's Brandon home Nov.
24, left all other valuables behind and vanished without a clue.
Pointing to aerial pictures of the Aisenbergs' neighborhood, Terry
questioned how a stranger could have maneuvered through the secluded
Terry also said Mrs. Aisenberg has inaccurately told reporters
that two polygraph exams she took within 48 hours of her daughter's
disappearance were inconclusive. He would not elaborate, but said
the Sheriff's Office was satisfied with its polygraph results.
"I don't give a damn whether it's true or not, because she passed
a test that was very reliable," said Barry Cohen, the Aisenbergs'
attorney, who immediately called his own news conference Thursday
afternoon to counter Terry's remarks. The Aisenbergs both passed
polygraph tests administered privately by the former FBI examiner
who cleared Richard Jewell of the Atlanta Olympic bombing.
Terry said the refusal of the baby's parents to speak to investigators
about their behavior the night before Sabrina's "reported abduction"
on Nov. 24 "is a major stumbling block." Still, he said detectives
are "encouraged" by an early analysis of evidence taken from the
home that was hand-delivered to the FBI crime labs in Quantico,
Va. He refused to elaborate.
He said 10 potential suspects were cleared of suspicion after
taking polygraph tests, but he did not include the Aisenbergs
in that group. Cohen, however, said he has no faith in the sheriff's
examiner's ability to conduct an accurate polygraph.
He also accused the Sheriff's Office of focusing on the Aisenbergs
as suspects to the exclusion of others. Cohen said he was alarmed
after a two-hour meeting Tuesday with Terry that gave him the
impression the parents were the prime suspects.
He was further alarmed by a subsequent exchange Wednesday night
between investigators and the Aisenbergs.
"They were acting in violation of our agreement," said Cohen,
who vowed to "step up my lawyering" and forbid any contact between
investigators and the couple unless he is present. He would not
elaborate on the exchange, beyond saying it involved the discussion
The parents invoked their right to have an attorney present at
all questioning shortly after a Nov. 25 polygraph test given by
a sheriff's examiner, Terry said. They hired Cohen the next day
and since that time have refused to discuss with detectives their
conduct or demeanor the night before reporting Sabrina missing
in a 911 call.
Cohen says he fears a manufactured case against the couple and
has placed limitations on interviews until investigators share
the case file and notes they wrote before his involvement. Terry
said Thursday that will never happen.
After shunning the media for almost six weeks after the baby vanished,
the Aisenbergs began a media tour with a Jan. 9 interview with
the Times, then went on to appearances on Dateline NBC, Good Morning
America, Today and Larry King Live.
Marc Klass, whose 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was abducted from
her California home and was murdered, has appeared several times
in television reports as an expert on child abductions. He said
Wednesday that the Aisenbergs must endure the suspicions if they
want to find Sabrina.
"Who knows what these parents know that might be a clue," said
Klass, who described grueling police interviews before the discovery
of his daughter's body two months after she was kidnapped. "I
was willing to turn in members of my family. I was willing to
bare my soul. Whatever it took to bring my child home.
"If I were the Aisenbergs now, I would dump Barry Cohen and go
straight to the police station."
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