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Missing Sabrina


Parents of missing infant hire lawyer

By MARTY ROSEN

©St. Petersburg Times, published November 27, 1997


The parents of a missing baby hired a high-profile defense attorney Wednesday after a lengthy grilling from authorities left them frightened and feeling suspect.

Marlene Aisenberg clutched a tissue and fought back tears as her husband, Steve, stood behind her and gently rubbed her shoulders in the office of lawyer Barry Cohen. On her brown sweater, the mother of three wore a gold pin with three tiny rhinestone dolls, one blue for her son, William, 8, and two pink for daughters Monica, 4, and Sabrina, the 5-month-old who vanished early Monday.

Mrs. Aisenberg reached up to clutch her husband's hand as Cohen spoke.
"When you have a high-profile case, people want to bring it to a conclusion. . . . When you're innocent, and you're not used to dealing with people like that, it's a little scary," said Cohen, who said his new clients were sent to him Wednesday morning by Rabbi Marc Sack, from Congregation Rodeph Shalom. Both Cohen and the Aisenberg family belong to the conservative South Tampa temple.

Cohen said the family intends to continue cooperating with authorities, who say they have no leads in the case. Sheriff's officials searched the family's home again Wednesday, and a search of trash bins, storm sewers and three ponds near the home failed to turn up clues. Meanwhile, more than 100 neighbors and supporters gathered for a prayer vigil Wednesday night at a Bloomingdale shopping center.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, the infant's grandmother said she turned to a psychic for tips.

"I'm just the grandmother, and I've had a very hard time with this," said Joan Sadowsky, who pleaded for Sabrina's safe return during an interview with WTVT-Ch. 13. She said the psychic told them the baby was kidnapped by a man and a skinny blond woman in a red pickup truck.

"Please, help us get that baby back," she said.

The Aisenbergs' next-door neighbor, Marti Jones, was startled to hear about the tip. Her husband, Chuck, had been working in the yard Saturday, prior to the kidnapping and noticed a red pickup turning in the cul-de-sac in front of their home. He did not recognize the truck and could not identify the driver, she said.

Cohen, who said he puts no faith in psychics, declined to comment.

The Aisenbergs turned to Cohen after questioning late Tuesday by FBI agents and sheriff's detectives made them feel they were being looked at as suspects in the disappearance, Cohen said. Increasingly, investigators and observers have commented on Marlene Aisenbergs' composure, and the fleeting smiles captured by television cameras when she was taken for questioning Tuesday night.

"This is a very traumatic thing for Marlene and Steve. People react to stress differently," Cohen said.

Neither Cohen nor sheriff's spokesman Lt. Greg Brown would say whether the couple was given a polygraph test Tuesday night. The Aisenbergs were taken in an unmarked sheriff's car to the criminal investigation office where polygraph equipment is kept, and they were questioned rigorously.

"It was aggressive enough to cause them concern," Cohen said. "Especially for someone who feels they've done nothing wrong."

Cohen thanked authorities, neighbors and the media for the efforts to find Sabrina, who was last seen by her mother at about midnight Sunday. Just before 7 a.m. Monday, Mrs. Aisenberg peeked in on her daughter and discovered an empty crib. She called 911.

Robert Chiaradao, FBI acting special agent in charge, would not comment on reports that the 911 tape has been sent to Quantico, Va., for processing.

Also appearing at the 3 p.m. news conference in Cohen's Tampa office were Mrs. Aisenberg's father, Stan Sadowsky, and Steve's brother, David, and his wife, Kathy Guilfoyle. Both are lawyers, and they also encouraged the Aisenbergs to hire a professional to represent them, Cohen said.

The family did not comment Wednesday, even when directly questioned by reporters. They appeared uncomfortable under the scrutiny of cameras and reporters who have been camped out in front of their Bloomingdale home since Monday morning. At the family's request, the media has refrained from photographing either of the couple's two young children. Cohen said they have met with their rabbi through the ordeal and find strength in the support of family, neighbors and each other.

"Fortunately, they have a loving marriage, and they've been very, very close," Cohen said.

Cohen asked reporters and the public to keep the incident from turning into a media event and said he did not want his retention to create "an inference" in the public's mind. The Aisenbergs plan to spend a quiet Thanksgiving as a family, praying for the safe return of their child, he said.

Later Wednesday, more than 100 people took a break from their own Thanksgiving preparations to gather at a prayer vigil for the family, holding candles and singing hymns in the back corner of a Wal-Mart parking lot.

"These are people just like you and me," said resident Gina Kent, who expressed concern about those who would cast doubt on the family's story. "I'm thinking somebody stole the baby for money. A 5-month-old baby brings money in the world today, sick as it is."

Kari Shepard, 16, of Brandon said she recently made a new friend through her computer who lives near the Aisenbergs.

"I just wanted to show whoever did this . . . that what they did is definitely not right, and it hurts a lot of people," she said. "It's really scary to think that a child in your care, especially your own, can be just torn away from you."

-- Times staff writer Linda Chion-Kenney contributed to this story.


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