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Larry King Live
What Happened to Sabrina Aisenberg?Aired March 7, 2001 - 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a mystery that's gripped the nation. Kidnapped, murdered -- what happened to Sabrina Aisenberg? Her parents say they don't know. Some people still don't believe them. From Washington, Marlene and Steve Aisenberg speak out in a rare interview about their fight to find their daughter and free themselves from suspicion that won't go away.
In Tampa, the Aisenberg's attorney, Barry Cohen. He'll give us the latest on the case.
In Cape Canaveral, Florida, local Tampa reporter Warren Elly. He's followed the story since day one.
In New York, Court TV anchor and former prosecutor Nancy Grace.
In San Francisco, Marc Klaas, whose daughter Polly's kidnapping and murder made headlines and stirred up controversy in 1993.
And in Denver, the former lead detective in the infamous JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation, Steve Thomas. They are all just ahead.
Welcome to another edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Our other guests will be joining us later, but we welcome now for first portion of this show, Marlene and Steve Aisenberg, the parents of little Sabrina who vanished from their suburban Tampa home on November 24, 1997.
She was five months old at the time. She would be 3 1/2 years old now if she is safely and alive. They have two other children, and now live up here in Bethesda, Maryland.
Give us the situation as to what happened with Sabrina. Take us through that day.
STEVE AISENBERG, FATHER OF MISSING CHILD: Well, basically, we woke up one morning and Marlene noticed that Sabrina was missing. She screamed. I came, and we saw that she wasn't there. We quickly called 911, as we thought we should do to get the police over to help us find our daughter.
And then shortly after that, the police were sitting across from Marlene, accusing her of having something to do with our daughter's disappearance.
KING: By shortly, Marlene, how soon after? MARLENE AISENBERG, MOTHER OF MISSING CHILD: Hours. Just hours. They literally -- it was that same day, and they said we believe you know where Sabrina is or what happened to her.
KING: Were your other two children at home?
S. AISENBERG: Yes.
M. AISENBERG: Yes, they were.
KING: And they were how old at the time?
M. AISENBERG: Monica was four and William was eight.
KING: And they were not bothered? Nobody touched them?
M. AISENBERG: No.
KING: Nothing happened to them. And how are they doing today?
S. AISENBERG: They're doing fine. They're struggling with growing issues, as all kids do, with school work. Monica just learned how to read last year. William is 11, and getting ready for junior high school next year. So, they're going through their normal paces.
KING: By the way, we must tell you we invited the prosecutors and the detectives who were involved in all of this to appear on this show tonight, and they declined the invitation. Did they tell you why you were a suspect, Marlene?
M. AISENBERG: No. They just basically said that statistics show, you know, and so basically they came in with that preconceived idea and they stuck with it.
KING: Were you shocked at that, Steve?
S. AISENBERG: Actually, when the detectives first asked me if I had anything do with it, I said no. They said are you upset with that question. I said I think I'd be -- you'd be remiss if you hadn't asked me that question. Now, let's find my daughter.
KING: Well, what do you make of it? No kidnapping, no ransom note, and I understand no forensic evidence of any kind. No fingerprints, nothing; right?
S. AISENBERG: Well, there were. There were fingerprints on our backslider that do not match Marlene or mine. There was a footprint on a bed ruffle in Sabrina's room that doesn't match any of the shoes or size foot of mine...
M. AISENBERG: There's a hair.
S. AISENBERG: ... or in our family. There was a mysterious hair in her crib. Also on the first day and I believe the third day, they brought dogs out to our house that sniffed and indicated that somebody went out through our back door and over a back fence with Sabrina, and since then they haven't commented on that.
M. AISENBERG: There are also two other incidents, attempted break-ins in our neighborhood within two weeks before ours, and also homes with babies.
KING: Now, the terrible tragedy, Marlene, is usually if there is no note, there is no kidnapping kind of thing, and you weren't major candidates. You're not multimillionaires. This is obviously, a child apprehension for someone who wanted a child. So, the odds are child might well be alive, but the odds are being raised by people who wanted her.
S. AISENBERG: That's what we believe happened, or...
KING: I mean, that's the most in child missing, right? Usually it's taken by someone -- when it's not a kidnapping and the parents didn't do it, it's someone who wanted a baby or child.
M. AISENBERG: Exactly.
S. AISENBERG: That's what we understand.
M. AISENBERG: And that's all we can believe in our hearts, too. We have to believe that, and that's why it's so important for people that may have had a baby come into their home just one year ago, two years ago, three years ago, look at this child that a friend and a relative, somebody that just can say you know what, they had a child that came into their family year ago and she looks like this baby. That's what we need to happen.
KING: Now, there is Sabrina at five months; right?
M. AISENBERG: That's just...
KING: We have superimposed, I understand, a picture as to how Sabrina would look today. And this is the best -- that's the one on the right.
M. AISENBERG: Right.
S. AISENBERG: That was done by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. We asked them do that. They took this picture off William and Monica at age three years, and did a composite of what Sabrina would look like.
KING: No offense to you, but she looks like her mother. What do people do if they think they see that child?
S. AISENBERG: Well, if they think they see a girl that looks like her, please call the authorities, the Missing Children Help Center. They will forward all leads down to the task force and then hopefully the task force...
KING: Where is the task force?
S. AISENBERG: We believe in Tampa. KING: Now, Barry, when were you -- Barry Cohen is the attorney for the Aisenbergs and he's in Tampa. When you were called into this?
BARRY COHEN, AISENBERGS' ATTORNEY: Several days after the baby disappeared, Larry.
KING: And what did you make of the police thoughts that it was the Aisenbergs who did something to her child?
COHEN: Well, the police have a right to investigate the parents. That's the natural, responsible thing do. In this case, however, they continued to stay focused on the Aisenbergs without looking for any other leads, and they became obsessed with the conclusion that the Aisenbergs were responsible.
And when they couldn't find facts to support that conclusion, they literally made them up to the extent that they lied to a state judge to get a wiretap, and as you well know, the wiretap produced absolutely no incriminating evidence whatsoever, despite the fact that the prosecutors said all of these terribly bad things in the indictment, and absolutely nothing there. The judge said it was pure fiction.
KING: We will get to that, but Barry, the question, this would be for the Aisenbergs, too, why? Why would they be obsessed with a nice couple whose child is gone?
COHEN: Well, my own judgment is that the pressure that they felt to solve this crime. I think that this came off heels of the Susan Smith case, the JonBenet Ramsey case. The detectives in those cases were criticized in the media and by the public, and I think they were just determined that they weren't going to be examples that they read about and they just were determined to make this case.
I think they had a tremendous pressure. I think that Major Gary Terry of the sheriff's office truly believed that the Aisenbergs had something to do with that, and his subordinates went out to find evidence to support his conclusion.
KING: By the way, those things have been thrown out and we'll get to all of that as well. And we also will be showing the picture again as well, in case anyone knows where little Sabrina might be. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
M. AISENBERG: We need Sabrina home. She needs to be with me and her father, her sister Monica, her brother William. We love her very much and need her to come home. We don't care who you are. We just want you to do the right thing. Look inside yourself, please, and drop her someplace safe and call someone and help them to come and get her so that she can come home to us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
S. AISENBERG: We understand and hope that this time of miracles that you grant us our wish to bring Sabrina home to her sister, Monica; her brother, William; her mother, Marlene and myself. We hope that you will look inside yourself, and find the strength to do this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was Marlene and Steve Aisenberg in December of '97, one month after Sabrina was reported missing. OK, now the latest development in this is a federal judge in Florida dismissed this case last month. Tapes were taken, and a key part of the prosecution case were ruled generally poor and largely inaudible.
The U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo recommended that the case be thrown out after a suppression hearing where some of the tapes were played and witnesses, including lead investigators, testified. Did you know you were being taped?
S. AISENBERG: No.
M. AISENBERG: No.
KING: They wiretapped your house.
S. AISENBERG: Yes, in our kitchen and in our bedroom.
KING: Barry, what did you make of that when you heard of it?
COHEN: Well, we were surprised. I was surprised, frankly, because I knew that there was no evidence at all to support an application for a wiretap. It never occurred to me that a wiretap would be obtained in that case because I knew there was no basis for it.
So, when I ultimately heard there was a wiretap, I knew that they had to make up evidence and lie to the judge to get any factual basis to support that. That was my suspicion, based on the fact that I knew that there was no evidence, and later that turned out true.
KING: Now, the most damaging thing, publicly, at least, no one has ever heard these tapes and apparently the judge says they're inaudible, but someone in indictment put down two statements, one by Marlene and one by Steven.
I'm going to put the statements up on the screen, read them and then what do you make of this since someone said they couldn't make out what the tape. This is what reportedly what was said. Marlene, the report you saying, "The baby's dead and buried. It was found because you did it. The baby is dead no matter what you say. You just did it.
And then Steven says, according to the indictment: "Honey -- and this was a federal indictment. "Honey, there was nothing I could do about it. We need to discuss they way that we can beat the charge. I would never break from the family pact on our story, even if the police were to hold me down. We will do what we have to do."
All right, Steve, what did make of that?
S. AISENBERG: Well, they're statements that neither of us have ever made. All I can make of it is that the authorities had a very vivid imagination and maybe from their years of dealing with less than desirable people, this is the scenario they came up with or maybe they just watched too many police shows.
KING: And then they have another one of you later, saying, a month later, saying I wish I hadn't harmed her. You deny saying that, too?
S. AISENBERG: I never said any of that.
KING: All right, now, what did the judge say when he threw it out. He never played the tapes in court, did he, Barry?
COHEN: He did play the tapes in open court.
KING: And they were not decipherable?
COHEN: Exactly. They were totally inaudible. The statements that you just read that were in the indictment were a total fabrication. That's what is so scary that the government -- we believe in our government -- the fact that the government would put in an indictment allegations which are absolutely false.
KING: But didn't they know, Barry, when they did that, that's just an indictment. They were eventually have to play this in court. It's not taken on their word, and if they knew it was, why would they risk looking that stupid?
COHEN: You would think so. What probably happened was that the prosecutor in this case, Mr. Kunz, has been described by the courts as so irresponsible, actually using that language, that to give him a grand jury is like giving a gun to -- a loaded gun to a child.
When you have that kind of prosecutor handling the grand jury, he would think if they give the transcripts to the jury, and while the jury is listening to the tapes, the jury would believe that they hear what they see in the transcripts.
KING: I see.
COHEN: And of course, the judge found that there was total, pure fiction. Nothing in the transcripts was supported by anything in the tape.
KING: Were -- was anything decipherable or was it just a poor wiretap?
COHEN: There were some words and phrases that were decipherable, but they didn't have the sinister allegation that they attributed to them because they were taken out of context. KING: Marlene, what was -- the judge said that. What was the police thought the motive? Why did they think you harmed your daughter or your husband harmed her?
M. AISENBERG: I believe it's what Barry said. I believe it's because of Susan Smith and the JonBenet Ramsey case, and they just figured, you know, this is -- this has got to be what's happened, and...
KING: Steve, how do you live with a double fact going on in your head? Your daughter is gone, and they think you harmed her?
S. AISENBERG: What we tried to do was look after William and Monica and try to raise them in the most positive atmosphere as possible. Getting back to one thing that you asked Barry, one thing you have to remember is comments like what read might have appeared in the transcript or the indictment, but it didn't it wasn't in the initial log, or if it was in the initial log, it wasn't elsewhere in transcripts...
KING: So, it never appeared before. It appeared in the indictment.
S. AISENBERG: Correct, so what they would do...
KING: They were setting you up.
S. AISENBERG: ... is they would just set things up and I think what they were trying to do is to separate Marlene and I to have one of us say something that wasn't true to verify their stance and to get Mr. Cohen off the case.
KING: Before we have our panel join us later, we'll be back with more of Marlene and Steve Aisenberg and their attorney, Barry Cohen. We'll also show you that picture again of how we believe Sabrina would look today. When she was taken she was five months old. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES WILSON, U.S. ATTORNEY: What this indictment alleges is that the baby was not kidnapped as reported by the Aisenbergs, that they lied to law enforcement authorities concerning the circumstances surrounding the baby's disappearance and their reaction to it, as well as the condition of the baby at the time of the reported kidnapping.
The indictment also charges the Aisenbergs discussed on several occasions that the baby was actually dead, and what story they would tell authorities concerning the disappearance of the baby.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Our panel will assemble in just a couple minutes. The Aisenbergs and Barry Cohen will remain with us as we talk through this for the full hour. Here's another picture of Sabrina as the people believe she would look today, and to contact if you think you know this child or have seen this child, you contact who again, Steve?
S. AISENBERG: The Missing Children's Help Center.
KING: I think there's an 800-number there, but I can't read it it's so it small. We'll get it up. 800 what? The lost. Dial 1-800- THE-LOST. 1-800-THE-LOST. You left Tampa because of this?
M. AISENBERG: We left Tampa because we felt it was important to be able to raise our children with respect for the police, and we had an opportunity to move into the house that Steve grew up in.
KING: You both grew up in the Northeast; right?
S. AISENBERG: Correct.
KING: You left with some bitterness toward Tampa.
S. AISENBERG: I don't know. We have a lot of good friends down there. We just didn't feel we could raise our children respecting the authorities when we ourselves don't have much respect for them.
KING: How about your neighbors? Did any ostracize you?
M. AISENBERG: Here?
KING: No, there.
M. AISENBERG: No. I mean, our friends -- every friend that we had there is still our friend. And they supported us 100 percent and they still support us and our family.
KING: When you went to the store, did people point to you? Did they walk away from you?
M. AISENBERG: A lot of people came up and said our prayers are with you. That's what we got.
KING: How did the person who apprehended the child get into the house?
S. AISENBERG: We believe they came through the garage. We had unfortunately left our garage door open accidentally that night, and we had never locked the door going from the garage to the house, so...
KING: Do you think, Marlene, it would have to be someone who knew what your child looked like -- knew what they were going to get? Why go right into that room?
M. AISENBERG: You know, that I don't know. It could have been, you know, people -- they could have watched. I went everywhere with my kids, and it could have been somebody that had been watching us and we wouldn't have a clue.
KING: Was she in any kind of nursery set-up, or...
M. AISENBERG: I ran a children's play program and she was with me all the time. So...
KING: You did. And the police never gave you any kind of motive that they thought you might have done this because she such-and-such.
S. AISENBERG: No.
KING: Or you had a prior record of harming children...
M. AISENBERG: Never.
S. AISENBERG: No, we don't.
KING: OK, we're going to take a break, come back, assemble the rest of the panel.
This is LARRY KING LIVE. Tomorrow night: Bernie Shaw.
Friday night, Walter Cronkite. They're both retired, both active,
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES WILSON, U.S. ATTORNEY: The indictment also alleges that the Aisenbergs provided false leads and false information to the law enforcement agents who were participating in the investigation of this case. That they made false statements to agents concerning the injuries that had occurred to the baby prior to her reported kidnapping. That the Aisenbergs provided photographs of another child and falsely represented the photographs to be that of baby Sabrina.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're with this incredible story with Marlene and Steve Aisenberg, the parents of the missing Sabrina. In Tampa is their attorney Barry Cohen. In New York is Nancy Grace, anchor for "Court TV" and former prosecutor in San Francisco. Marc Klaas, whose 12- year-old daughter Polly was abducted and murdered eight years ago. He's founder of the Klaas Kids Foundation. In Denver, Steve Thomas, the former lead detective in the Jon Benet Ramsey murder investigation, a guest on this program. And in Cape Canaveral is Warren Elly of WTVTTV in Tampa, who has covered this case since day one.
Before we get the panel's input and the Aisenbergs can jump in as well, what did they mean, the prosecutor, when he said that you gave them a picture of another child and false leads?
S. AISENBERG: Well, we never gave them any false leads. Any time somebody called something into us, we turned it over to the police immediately via our attorney. In the original article -- in an original article of "People" magazine, they had mistakenly identified a picture of me, Marlene, William, and Monica as being Sabrina. And we were upset about that, and so....
M. AISENBERG: But we said it was Monica.
S. AISENBERG: We said it was Monica from day one.
KING: So you never said...
M. AISENBERG: No.
KING: Well, why would you give them a picture of a different child.
M. AISENBERG: Exactly. Exactly.
S. AISENBERG: And any time that we did show them pictures of Monica at nine months or a little bit older, we said this is Monica, she looks a lot like Sabrina.
M. AISENBERG: In the baby pictures they looked a lot alike.
S. AISENBERG: There is a big similar, but make sure that you know that this Monica.
KING: Warren Elly in Cape Canaveral, we'll start with you. You've covered this from the get-go. What do you make of it? Why are they suspects?
WARREN ELLY, WTVT REPORTER: Well, they were suspects because there weren't any others. There were suspects, Larry, because from the outset, these detectives, even the first deputy on the scene that day, suspected them. They talked about the demeanor of the Aisenbergs. They even pointed to the 911 call, claimed that Marlene, on the 911 call, was alternately calm, and alternately hysterical. And these were things that raised their suspicions, and they focused right in right from the start.
They even had a federal grand jury looking at the Aisenberg's financial records from the IRS just days after Sabrina was reported missing.
KING: And what would be the point of looking at your finances? Do you know?
S. AISENBERG: I don't know.
KING: Nancy, you are not only a court TV anchor but you're a former prosecutor. What do you make of this? What are they going on?
NANCY GRACE, "COURT TV": Well, there's a lot more than just demeanor that the police took into account when they first suspected these two. For instance, these two were the only ones that they know of in the home when the crime took place, when the baby was taken.
Not only that, Larry, I believe that there was such a coincidence, and very often you don't see coincidences in criminal law. For instance, the garage door was unlocked. The door to the home was unlocked. The alarm was off that night, of all nights. The dog didn't bark.
And the police are expected to believe between midnight and 6:30 some unknown stranger sneaks into their house, that knows the layout of their home, and takes their baby. It is just too much to believe.
KING: We'll take -- we're going to get a break, come back, and have the Aisenbergs respond to that, and then get the comments of the rest of the panel. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The painstaking search in this last of 15 haunted (ph) lakes could take until Friday to complete, but only then can the searchers say with certainty they couldn't find any trace of Sabrina underwater or on the ground for 5 square miles around her home, that's unless new tips come in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was one of the numerous television reports concerning this unsolved matter. Before we have comments from the other members of the panel, would you comment what Nancy said? The garage door is open, the door is open, the alarm is off.
S. AISENBERG: Sure. We had an alarm, but we never set it. We never used the alarm at all. .
KING: So it was never on?
M. AISENBERG: Never.
S. AISENBERG: It was never on. It's something that came with the home and we just never used it.
As far as the garage door and the door leading to the garage from the home, we never locked the door going from the home to the garage. That just was never locked. We never checked it to see if it was locked. It was just...
M. AISENBERG: That's how the kids would come in and out of the house during the day.
S. AISENBERG: Come in and out of the house.
KING: And you mentioned that if the lead suspected you, they'd follow it up, but if -- if someone reported seeing the child, they didn't follow it.
S. AISENBERG: Correct. On day two, there was a lead called in at an -- a woman saw a child that looked like Sabrina at an airport, and the woman was never contacted by authorities. A few months later, there was another lead of a woman said her stepdaughter had babysat for a child who looked like Sabrina, and the people had floor plans of our home in their house. And that woman was never recontacted by authorities.
But when she actually first called it in, she talked to the police officer, and the police officer said there's no way that can be Sabrina, there's no way she can be in that town with those people.
KING: Now, Steve Thomas, you're a former lead detective in the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation. What do you make of this police work?
STEVE THOMAS, FORMER LEAD DETECTIVE ON RAMSEY MURDER CASE: Well, I have to take the pro-law enforcement position here. Earlier today, Larry, I spoke with Cal Henderson, the sheriff of Hillsborough County, Florida, the lead agency in this case, a very well-respected law enforcement professional. And he said he believes in and stands behind his detectives in this case. These are decorated, respected, career professional police officers, and he doesn't believe they perjured themselves.
Mistakes may have been made. There may have been a lack of preparation, but nothing rising to a level of criminal conduct. And as we know, there's going to be an inquiry into this matter, and we'll have a result.
KING: All right. But how about their saying, for example, they call in, someone said they saw the child at an airport and the police don't follow up?
KING: You're a detective. Wouldn't you follow up on that?
THOMAS: I can tell you, Larry, in a high-profile case, such as a Simpson a Ramsey or the Aisenbergs, the police are flooded, literally, with thousands and thousands of tips, running the gamut from the bizarre and obscene to the legitimate, and there has to be a process in place to screen those leads.
KING: So this Hillsborough, the gentleman you spoke to -- what's his name again?
THOMAS: Cal Henderson. He's the sheriff down there.
KING: So he believes the Aisenbergs harmed their own child.
THOMAS: No, he did not tell me that at all. He said he stands by and believes in his police officers.
KING: Well, Marc, you lost a daughter to an abduction and a murder, and there was a time people thought you did it, right?
MARC KLAAS, FATHER OF MURDER VICTIM: Yeah, that's absolutely correct, Larry. You know, I talk to parents on an -- almost on a daily basis who find themselves in this situation. And inevitably, what happens is that they are going to be questioned, cajoled or even sometimes accused of having committed these crimes themselves. And basically when that happens, they'll stand toe-to-toe with the police officers and say, you want me, you come and get me.
What they have to do is eliminate themselves, which is something that wasn't done in the Aisenbergs' case.
I think that we have to remember here what's being suggested is that not only the detectives that came into the house, but the entire law enforcement community in Hillsborough County, the -- the federal prosecutor, the local prosecutor and the grand jury, whose questions they refused to answer, are all in some kind of a cosmic sinister conspiracy, against Steve and Marlene Aisenberg. And I don't believe that for a second.
KING: OK. Did you refuse to answer grand jury questions?
S. AISENBERG: We, under our attorney's advice, did take the Fifth with the grand jury.
S. AISENBERG: Because at that point it was becoming obvious to our attorney, Barry Cohen, that they were solely focusing in on us as the targets of an investigation.
KING: But you didn't do it, so...
S. AISENBERG: Well, if we didn't...
M. AISENBERG: We didn't say the things that were on those tapes and the police made those things up, too.
KING: Barry, why did you have them take the...
GRACE: I don't understand that.
KING: Hold it. All right. Nancy -- Nancy, you want to ask a question, and then I'll ask Barry. Nancy, go ahead.
GRACE: Well, what I don't understand is like what Marc Klaas just said. He never once refused to speak to police. He offered to do a polygraph. And I understand that in this case Mrs. Aisenberg actually had -- couldn't pass two polygraphs in a row, got inconclusive tests. And you never heard Marc Klaas taking the Fifth. In fact, he insisted on going to police.
KING: All right. Do you want to respond?
S. AISENBERG: You know what, we..
KING: All right. Hold on. All right, thank you. All right -- Marc.
S. AISENBERG: We insisted on going to police also, but we asked that our attorney, Barry Cohen, be present on any questioning that we had with the police. The police refused that. As a matter of fact, on the Geraldo Rivera show, I had specifically said with Marc Klaas there that we would answer any questions the police asked us. We had been under much questioning by the police. We had answered every question they ever asked us. We offered to give them blood, pubic hair samples, hair samples, anything they needed that would help them to find our daughter.
GRACE: You took the Fifth. You took the Fifth.
S. AISENBERG: And you know what, we answered every question that they ever asked us.
GRACE: Two polygraphs, inconclusive -- why?
S. AISENBERG: But you know what, I passed my polygraph that I was given. I took an independent polygraph, my wife took an independent polygraph with Richard Ratcliffe (ph), which we passed. It was shown...
GRACE: Third time around with your own private polygraph...
KING: All right. Hold it, hold it. Warren, Warren -- we haven't heard from Warren and then it's Barry. Warren?
ELLY: Well, the thing that's interesting to me about this, Larry, is we're completely forgetting what this federal magistrate said after spending two weeks listening to this testimony, to the testimony of these detectives, their superiors, experts and so on. These are some of the words that the federal magistrate used.
He said that the detectives, Burton and Blake, engaged in a pattern of inappropriate conduct, that their work on these wiretap applications was pure fiction, unconvincing, that they'd recklessly disregarded the truth. These weren't isolated incidents. These, the federal magistrate found, were a pattern.
And what is troubling about this case is just the matter of just how far did this go. Were these mistakes -- a federal magistrate, in my experience, 25 years of reporting, I've never seen a federal magistrate throw out wholesale a case like this, Larry, and find these kinds of disturbing things in the course of an investigation.
KING: Warren has a point, doesn't he, Steve? The magistrate uses terms like "deliberately," "recklessly," "disregard."
THOMAS: Well, Larry, let me respond this way: I've never -- and I think Nancy will support me in this -- heard of cops and prosecutors putting their lives and careers and families and possible imprisonment on the line conspiring to frame innocent people. That may happen in Hollywood versions, but in real life, cops and prosecutors don't operate that way.
KING: Are you questioning the motives of the judge?
THOMAS: Well, no, because I'm not familiar with the judge's ruling. But what I think we have here is the all-too-familiar let's persecute and put the cops on trial.
GRACE: Blame the cops.
THOMAS: We saw it in Simpson, we saw it in Ramsey, and we're seeing it unfortunately in this case. And I'll tell you, Larry, it has a chilling effect on police work. When the detective commander comes into the squad room and says, we've got a case, we have parents who have retained prominent legal counsel, they're not cooperative, and they have a dead and/or missing child, who wants to take this case -- I can tell you detectives aren't raising their hands to take these cases on.
KING: Barry, is there some -- I don't mean to imply against anyone. But it seems that the prosecutors and the police stand by their people, and the defense attorneys and others stand by their people.
COHEN: Well, and that's the problem in the case. It's bigger than the Aisenbergs. It's about the whole system.
When you see that Cal Henderson, the sheriff, stands by his people, and you hear this gentleman, this detective, talk about what he's been speaking about, they're refusing to deal with the facts of this case. The fact is that what Nancy said was true: that the police had a right to question those circumstances that she described.
But once they investigated, they found out that these people didn't have an alarm -- they had it there, never hooked up. The fact that the neighbors talked about how they always left the garage door open. The fact is that the dog didn't bark at strangers in the house. They saw that repeatedly. It was on the tapes. It was on the evidence in the tapes. When people came in the house, the dog did not bark.
Once they satisfied themselves, or should have satisfied themselves, then they needed to look elsewhere instead of still trying to make facts to support their conclusions.
KING: I've got to get a quick break. We'll come right back. And by the way, again, reminding that we did invite the investigators, the detectives, the prosecutors. They declined. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
M. AISENBERG: There the goes. There she goes. There she goes to William's shoes.
She is going to eat a shoe. There she's got it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Nancy Grace has a question of Barry Cohen, then we'll take calls -- Nancy.
GRACE: Hi Barry.
GRACE: Did the grand jury hear these tapes? The prosecutors were relying on in the indictment.
COHEN: Well, you know, we weren't in the grand jury, so I don't know. But...
GRACE: Well, they are the ones that returned the indictment. I think they heard the tapes, so they could hear something.
COHEN: I think probably what they saw was the transcripts that purported to say what the tapes said, because the tapes did not say anything that the transcripts said, and the tapes said nothing about what anything to support anything...
GRACE: That is your interpretation of the tapes. You are a defense attorney -- you're trying to help your clients.
COHEN: That is not my interpretation. Judge Pizzo and Judge Merryday all heard the tapes.
KING: Warren, have you heard the tapes? Warren, have you heard the tapes?
ELLY: Yes, yes, I did. We heard them in open court, heard a number of them, and...
ELLY: Well, nothing but noise, Larry, nothing but noise.
KLAAS: Was the portion of the tape where those alleged comments were made about the baby being dead, played before any of the people that are sitting here before you tonight? Did Warren hear them? Did the judge hear them? The rule to throw the case out?
ELLY: I heard them, I heard them in the federal court. They were played publicly, and the judge even wrote -- he listened to them not only with a transcript, he listened to them on headphones, he listened to them on speakers, he said that he just couldn't hear these things and there were also conversations that he cited in his report and recommendation to the federal judge where he pointed out that conversations had been distorted, had been taken out of context -- conversations he found were exculpatory that pointed to the Aisenberg's innocence...
KING: Warren, you have covered this in the beginning right?
ELLY: Yes, sir.
KING: And did you suspect the parents?
ELLY: Yes, I did. Absolutely.
KING: And you changed...
ELLY: Well, there is no question in my mind, Larry, that there is no other answer; that is the problem here. As everyone pointed out, there is no physical evidence, there is no trail of evidence. Bloodhounds caught scents that went nowhere, it's totally baffling. And it's only logical: who else could be the suspect?
The problem here is, the methods that were used by these detectives, it is not clear whether or not these methods went up the ladder to the higher-ups in the sheriffs office; that is why an independent prosecutor was appointed by the governor to investigate. And, the problem with all of this, Larry, is we still don't know what happened to Sabrina. There is a...
KING: Let me get a call; Greenville, South Carolina hello.
KING: Go ahead.
CALLER: I would like to know what kind of effect this has had on their marriage.
M. AISENBERG: We had a good marriage before this happened to our family, and, you know, we have a good marriage today. We believe in each other, and we both still want the same things: our daughter to come home and be a family for William, Monica, and Sabrina and each other.
KING: Tampa, hello.
CALLER: Yes Larry. My question for the Aisenbergs and panel is, with the intense scrutiny that the media, local and national, have put on the case, has it helped or hindered the investigation in solving the disappearance of Sabrina?
S. AISENBERG: We have to believe it is currently helping, we have -- over the past three weeks, we have had a tremendous number of leads, that are coming in, that are coming into our attorney's office, that we are forwarding to the police department and that are coming into the police department.
KING: Marc, what do you think? Is it helping or hurting -- all the attention?
KLAAS: The attention could only help these kinds of situations. If there is still a child out there and that child is still alive, people take a look at this picture, and hopefully it will bring the little girl home. I'm just not sure that that is the situation we are dealing with here. You know, Nancy was talking about some of the things leading up to discovery of Sabrina's disappearance and I would like to pick it up right at that point Larry.
Apparently, as I understand it, Marlene opened the baby's door into her bedroom saw the baby wasn't there, immediately screamed and peed her pants. There is something that doesn't work there for me. I would go and check the other children's room; I would ask around to see if anybody had seen the baby; I wouldn't just go into an immediate panic like that. I also have to ask and question the reason that Barry Cohen is still with them. If they have been cleared and they have nothing to hide, why does he still have to be there to answer questions?
KING: That's two questions -- let's ask the first. Marlene, why did you react so quickly?
M. AISENBERG: I reacted because, you have a five-month-old baby who can't -- cannot get out of the crib by herself, is only crawling and not walking, and we did check other two children's rooms. As a matter of fact, Steve went and woke Monica up, so William was...
KLAAS: No, you woke Steve up! You woke Steve up with your scream, Marlene! You are changing your story again.
M. AISENBERG: No, I'm not changing my story.
KLAAS: You woke him up with your scream, you are exactly changing your story.
KING: You were there; what happened?
S. AISENBERG: Marc, she is not changing her story. What you are doing is, you are confabulating the facts in your mind to try to make a sense or an order out of something...
KLAAS: Steve, she has said -- she said this on many television shows, Steve. She said she opened the door, the baby wasn't there, she screamed your name, woke you up, peed her pants, and...
M. AISENBERG: And then Steve ran and woke Monica up, and that is right, Steve ran and woke Monica up.
KLAAS: See? Your story is changing. As we speak, your story is changing.
KING: All right, let me get a break and come back, and try to iron through this, and we will show you that picture again by the way.
And the number again, if you think you know where this child might be, 1-800 THE LOST. Don't go away.
KING: Barry Cohen, Marc wanted to know why you are still involved if they have -- if everything is thrown out?
COHEN: Well, I'm still involved because I'm still -- their lawyer. We are going to be pursuing the -- remedies that they have, because they were wrongfully accused.
KING: Are you planning a lawsuit?
COHEN: I'm sure that is going to be one alternative we are going pursue.
KING: Suing the county? The detectives? The federal courts as well?
COHEN: We are going to look to hold everybody accountable for this terrible tragedy that has been imposed upon the Aisenbergs. But Larry let me say to you -- let me say this -- I'd like to say something to you and the members of the panel and the American people.
This case is indicative of a problem in this country that we need to realize exists. When we have police officers making a case and fabricating evidence, as the judge found in this case; when we have prosecutors telling a judge untruths about existence of facts on tapes, we have a serious problem.
What do people do this country who can't afford lawyers like us to pursue this the way we did? They're framed and they go to jail daily. Congress needs to take a look at this thing. We need have Congressional investigation.
KING: Isn't Governor Bush having an -- investigating the investigators.
COHEN: He's having a special prosecutor. Whether what unites he and investigators is stronger than what divides them, I don't know. But it's bigger than that, Larry. The Congress has to take a look at this thing. The federal laws in this country, the federal criminal process without depositions, without witnesses. You don't have any of in the federal courts in this country, and Congress needs to take a look at.
KING: Nancy, you wanted to ask something quickly.
GRACE: Right, Barry...
GRACE: .., at first, you gave a press conference earlier on and you stated that Aisenberg's statements were simply taken out of context on those tapes. Now you're saying they never said any of that at all. Which one do you really mean.
COHEN: That was before I heard -- I assumed, Nancy, that there had to be something, some truth to what the government said in allegations.
DAVIS: Barry, you're a heck of a defense attorney. I think you've changed your story.
COHEN: No, I'm not changing the story at all. I assumed the government -- there was some truth to what they said. The best thing that could have been is taken out of context. The truth that is that Judge Pizzo found that what you could hear, they did take out of context, and they distorted the truth totally. The rest of it you couldn't hear at all. It's not me as a defense lawyer, Nancy. Judge Pizzo is a well-respected judge in this town.
GRACE: But you're asking me to believe...
KING: One at a time. Somebody obviously did -- somebody is wrong.
KING: Let me get -- I've got to get a break, Barry. We'll come back and get the thoughts of everybody on the panel before we leave you, and we'll show you one more picture as well of Sabrina as she might look today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It towers 80 feet at Tampa's busiest intersection (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I-275 and I-4 and thanks to Sabrina's dad's employer, MI Homes, this is what's going up there, a 14-by-40 foot appeal for Sabrina's return.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It goes without saying that everyone hopes Sabrina is alive and well and is found. Nancy, do you think we're going to have a resolution?
GRACE: No, I don't think we're going to have a resolution. I think at this point, the trail is cold, and we will never know for sure what happened to baby Sabrina, and the only people that do know aren't talking.
KING: Marc Klaas.
KLAAS: Well, I think that, you know, in the last few minutes, Mrs. Aisenberg has given three separate versions of what happened that morning, and therein lines the problem. It's a huge disservice to the law enforcement community in America to suggest that every parent of a kidnapped or missing child should rush to a defense attorney, and start looking out for their own interests instead of the interests of the child.
KING: Steve Thomas, do you think there will be resolution? The JonBenet Ramsey, in which you think you know who the killer was, and said so on this program, do you think you're going to find out the result here? THOMAS: No, I don't think so, and I think the important distinction, Larry, is that when a suspect doesn't cooperate with police, it does not lessen the police focus or suspicion of that target. In Marc Klaas's case, the epitome of a victim parent. He went in, bared his soul, and because the police were able to get past him as a suspect, a piece of dirt now sits on California death row for the murder of his daughter.
KLAAS: Thank you.
KING: Warren, do you think we're going to have a conclusion?
ELLY: I don't know, Larry. I think one conclusion we must have is the efficacy of this investigation. There were hundreds of police officers and deputies from all over Florida who dove in frigid winter waters, who spent the holidays away from their families looking for this child.
We need to know what these detectives did. If the federal magistrate is right about what they did, and if they did wrong, how far did it go. If they did right we need to know that. Sabrina unfortunately, seems lost in all of it, Larry.
KING: Barry, do you think we'll ever know?
COHEN: We'll have a conclusion if the Congress of the United States looks at this problem. They will get to the truth and they'll fix this problem in America.
KING: Marlene and Steve, do you expect to see Sabrina again?
S. AISENBERG: Yes, we do. And a matter of fact, Marc with all your clout out there in looking for missing children, we ask your help in finding our daughter and bringing her back safely to us. We think with people like you out there, your clout can help bring her home, and getting her picture out there. Our sympathy goes out to you for what happened to you and we know that you feel for us and our pain and hope that our daughter comes safely back.
KING: We are out of time. We have not heard the last of this. Thanks to everybody for being with us. Let's show one more picture of Sabrina as she might look today, and if you think you have information regarding this, the number to call is 1-800-THE-LOST. 1-800-THE-LOST.
Stayed tuned for "CNN TONIGHT." Tomorrow night, Bernard Shaw. Friday night, Walter Cronkite. We thank all of our guests. We thank you for watching. Good night.
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