Thursday, October 25, 2012

Statement Analysis: Baby Sabrina Case

This is a case that caused a lot of controversy, where a baby was reported missing, and police felt strongly that it was a case of unintentional death and cover up, by the parents.  People have taken sides, bickered, argued, formed committees for or against, and are passionate about what they believe happened to Baby Sabrina.  Statement Analysis will conclude this article. 

It also makes for great instruction on analysis.  The parents of Baby Sabrina have even offered their support to Deborah Bradley, mother of missing baby Lisa, of whom police and Statement Analysis show deception. 

First, a background on the case (I), and then some questions for self-analysis (II) and then we will look at Baby Sabrina's parents' own words (III)

I.   Case Details

In 1997 Steven and Marlene Aisenberg hired attorney Barry Cohen after their five-month-old baby, Sabrina Aisenberg, disappeared from her crib in the Aisenberg home. Baby Sabrina was never found and the reason for her disappearance remains a mystery. From the beginning the parents were the only suspects the prosecution investigators pursued.
 Prosecution investigators received an illegally-obtained warrant to record over 255 private conversations in the Aisenberg home. The tapes were inaudible for the most part and none provided any evidence to prosecute the Aisenbergs. The tapes were transcribed into transcripts for the judge and for presentation to a grand jury. The Aisenbergs were indicted. 
Eventually in 2007, the charges against the Aisenbergs were dropped for lack of evidence. In U.S. v. Aisenberg, Cohen sued the federal government formalicious prosecution on behalf of the Aisenbergs for reimbursement of legal fees under the Hyde Amendment, a federal statute enacted in 1997 to pay the legal fees of defendants who were victims of prosecutorial abuse. On February 1, 2003, the Aisenberg's were awarded $2.9 million.  (Wikipedia)

II.  Questions for Analyst   

1.  Do you believe the parents were responsible?  Or, do you support the parents and blame the police?

2.  Do you have emotional attachment to your point of view?  

3.  When the case broke, did you form a strong opinion on the case?

4.  Have you debated anyone about the case?

5.  Have you ever posted your opinion on "who done it?" anywhere on the internet?

6.  Do you feel that you have an open mind towards possible guilt or innocence in this case?

7.  Did you feel the parents justified in their lawsuit?

8.  Do you want to know the truth?

9.  Do you think the police acted inappropriately yet the parents were still responsible?

10. Do you struggle with being wrong?

11. What would your family say about you?
      a.  You are good about saying you are sorry and taking responsibility
      b.  You struggle with saying you are sorry
      c.  You often blame others
      d.   You readily blame yourself, even when the fault is not your own

From The Larry King Show, Steven Aisenberg was asked the best question possible:  

                                                "What happened?"

This allows the subject to use his own personal dictionary, and begin and end the account where he chooses.  The analysis is in bold type. The principles used here are the same principles used in each case we cover.  

Expected Versus Unexpected

We ask that you put yourself in the shoes of the subject, and assume innocence.  If you do not assume he is innocent of any guilty knowledge of what happened to his daughter, you cannot look for the expected response.  

In Statement Analysis, we deal with the unexpected.  

If you were innocent and were being interviewed because someone thought you had stolen something, what would you say?  You would say, "I didn't steal it" without sensitivity indicators.  Your language would be plain, with strong First Person Singular Pronoun usage, past tense verbs, and no need of qualifiers such as "think, believe, perhaps, maybe..."   You don't need to "think" about it; you didn't do it.  You will speak for yourself, and not for another.  You have no guilt, so there is no need to share guilt with the pronoun "we", as is so often found in the language of the guilty:  a desire to spread around the guilt.  

I interviewed someone who accepted a fake receipt; terribly obvious, cartoonish fraud.  She answered, repeatedly, "we saw it as fine" and "we okay'd it" and "we didn't see anything wrong with it."  Each time she answered this way, I asked her, "who is 'we'?" or, "who were you working with?" and "who approved it?" because she was the only person to have seen the fake document but felt so guilty about missing something so blatantly fake that even after being corrected, she went back to using "we" as she did not want to take responsibility for approving a fake receipt.  In the follow up interview, she said that she was alone when she checked over the receipt and reimbursed the thief, but quickly went back to "but we thought it was valid..." which led me to ask, over and over, "who is this 'we', you are referring to?" It never stopped.  

Picture your child being missing.  What would you say?  If you called 911, would you give a polite greeting and talk about the weather?  Would you feel the need to build an alibi first?

Put yourself in the subject's shoes and attempt to answer questions:  this is called "The Expected" in analysis. 

When you hear an answer that does not fit the normal, honest, straightforward response, you are now confronted with "The Unexpected" which requires analysis.  

We deal with the unexpected in Statement Analysis.

 Follow the pronouns. 

The pronoun "I" is the single most used word in the English language and an adult has used the words "I" and "we" millions of times:  pronouns are instinctive.  They are not mistaken.  Anything a human does millions of times becomes efficient.  This is why pronouns are the single best indicator of deception. 

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.

The following is the statement, with analysis following in bold type.  The underlining is added for emphasis.   

Wellbasically, 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.

1.  "Well" is a pause indicating a need to collect his thoughts.  The answer should be immediate since the adrenaline flow during an emergency puts the subject into "excited utterance" mode.  This pause shows sensitivity and the next word confirms it:

2.  "Basically" tells us that there is more information that he is thinking of, but withholding. 
3.  "we woke up" uses the plural "we", which weakens the statement.  He should be speaking for himself, which he does, using the "I" in the same answer. 
4.  "one morning" is used as in story telling. 
5.  "noticed" is a casual word, and does not fit the account of a missing child.
6.  "She screamed" is a very short sentence, which indicates emotion.  
7.  "I came, and we saw" shows that he does speak for himself ("I") but then reports what "we" saw; this indicates a heavy reliance upon the "we", which in a missing child case is very unexpected. 

To both a father and a mother, a missing child is highly personal ('up close/personal') with heavy emotional impact upon the person.  The use of the casual "noticed" as happenstance followed by "scream" sounds like a poorly constructed story and not that which comes from experiential memory for a parent.  

The parent of a missing child is, very personally, impacted, and we expect to hear "I" in the statement regularly, even when both are together, speaking as one.  The reader looks for the sentence to go smoothly, with a 'feel' that it is genuine, and not rehearsed.  That is not how this answer reads. 

 "We saw":  the subject should tell us what he saw, with his eyes, and not speak for her eyes. 

Would you just "notice" your child is gone?  This is soft language. 

"we quickly" uses not only the weakened "we" (one person dialed the police, not "we") but the addition of the word "quickly", as an unnecessary word, is artificial.

No one would think to add this word unless they had felt it necessary to convince others that they did not delay calling 911 to report a missing child.  

" My child wasn't there and I called 911" is straight forward.  Why would he feel the need to report that when he saw his child missing he didn't delay to call 911?

First:  he does not say he learned that his child was missing.  In Analysis, if the subject doesn't tell us so, we cannot say it.  He says "we saw" and "we called" and "quickly":  there are too many indicators of weakness in this one sentence to deem it coming from experiential memory. 

"We quickly called 911" does not tell us which person called 911.  This indicates sensitivity (via avoidance) of the 911 call, making the 911 call important to the subject and to us. 

Note the word "quickly":  would anyone hesitate to call 911?  This word is unnecessary, therefore, very important.  It is unexpected because no parent would hesitate calling 911 when a baby is missing, therefore, there is no need to say that we did this "immediately" or "quickly" because who would do anything else?  This is an attempt to appear to look appropriate.  The need to persuade is a red flag. 

8.  "as we thought we should do" is sensitive since it shows the reason why something was done.  

Note that he knows what his wife was thinking by use of the word "we"

Please note that the word "we" can be used when guilt is felt, as the guilty party has a need to share or 'spread around' the guilt, lessening its impact.  (Dillingham)

Question:  Why would anyone need to say that "we thought" we should call 911 when their child is missing?

Answer  This indicates  that there was likely a strong argument about calling 911.  One may have thought one way, while the other thought another way, but eventually they came together with their thinking and decided to call 911.  Why would anyone even debate calling 911?  Why the need to show that they both thought to call 911?  This was an argument between them. 

"to get the police over to help us"

Please note that the research of Dr. Susan Adams' of domestic homicide 911 calls show that the guilty caller will not ask for help specifically for the victim, but will often ask for help for himself, the caller.  This highlights the psychological need that the guilty party has for "help"

"to" help indicates sensitivity as the subject has the need to explain why the police were needed.  There should be no sensitivity as to calling the police.  By explain the "why" of calling police, it further highlights that they did not, initially, agree to call police, at least, at that time.  Did one party feel the need to delay the call?  This is the likely argument that took place. 

The subject has a need to tell us why one of them (he says "we called" but it is likely that only one did) called police.  With a missing baby, would you need to explain to someone why you were calling 911?  This is highly sensitive and troublesome.  This is why we highlight "so, since, therefore, because, to..." and so on, as very sensitive, and it gets the color blue in the sensitivity scale. 

9.  "our daughter" is unusual, but continues the theme of "we" above; sharing responsibility.  This is very personal and we expect to hear "my daughter" rather than "our daughter."

10.  "And then shortly after that" is the "temporal lacunae" of jumping over time, repeatedly:

a.  "And"   When a sentence begins with the word, "And" it is an indicator of missing information.   

b.  "And then" skips over time.  When time is skipped over, it is considered sensitive and follow up interviews will focus upon this time period.  We have the sentence beginning with missing information, and the time period is skipped over. 

c.  "shortly after that" is a needless and second 'temporal lacuane' making this period of time highly sensitive, with deliberately withheld critical information about what happened, or was said, during that time period.  

11.  "sitting"   When body posture enters the subject's statement, it is an increase in tension.  

The subject went from calling the police right to the police "sitting" accusing Marlene.  

This is a large portion of missing information. 

Based upon the single answer to the question, "What happened?", there is enough in this short answer to indicate deception via missing information on the part of the subject. 

Please note that in order to be deceptive, it must be a deliberate act of will on the part of the subject. 

In this short answer, we have enough sample to know that he is withholding information regarding the disappearance of his daughter, has sensitivity indicators that should cause the analyst to question if he has guilty knowledge of what happened to his daughter. 


Anonymous said...

Is it not possible to assume guilt and then look for what is expected? Why wouldn't you do this? Sorry if this is a bad question.

Anonymous said...

Would the time lapse also changed the account from excited utterance to recall/retelling? As you say, a non guilty patent replays the events of the night over and over again looking for a missing detail. Could adding the words "well" and "basically" be natural if that's the case?

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:07
- I believe the answer would be because lying is stressful, so liars (90%) lie by means of withholding information. The rare 10% lie by commission, that would be making stuff up. So when a deceptive person speaks, they are being truthful. They are withholding information and when asked sensitive questions, by way of their answers you can detect sensitivity.

--I have often remembered being asked a specific questions where I had my mind race for an answer because I was unable to outright lie. I found myself asking a question to the question to buy time so I can compose myself and time to think of an "appropriate" answer.

Anonymous said...

awww, we're talking about BillieJean Dunn here, aren't we???? If I have learned nothing else at this site:

1.) Parent talking about missing child in the past tense= dead child.

2.) Parent "alibi-building" (i.e...."I was at work when this all went down.") = guilty parent.

After Jessica Ridgeway, I willingly place the blame of parental stupidity, laziness or ignorance squarely on the blame of the parents. They are the ones that should be held accountable for ALLOWING the whole ugly mess of child abuse/murder to get rolling!
Certainly, dear bleeding hearts, the blame of an actual murder goes squarely on the murderer's shoulders.

But for Christsakes,get off your lazy, stupid, or ignorant a$$ and walk your kids to school. Make sure they get in the door okay, and then go home and have a cup of coffee and go to sleep for a few hours

dadgum said...

You might prefer a discussion forum happy to run down parents, siblings, neighbors..without anything other than their collective 'gut' to go on.

This is a statement analysis which statement are you making reference?

We may stray from time to time, though a statement is at the core.

Skeptical said...

Anon 10:57:

I wondered the same thing. Their statement is made 13 years after the original disappearance of Sabrina. With all the accusations and suspicion surrounding the Aisenbergs, did they bond into a "we" mentality and would this affect their answers. It would be interesting to know what they said to the police and what they said to Larry King for comparison.

I find their explanation of what happened to Sabrina unconvincing. It sounds like an earlier instance of the baby Lisa case. No body, no crime.

I often wonder if they had help. There was the fingerprint on the back door and a scent trail leading out the backyard that was not explained by the police. Did someone help them get rid of the body?

What I do find reprehensible is the conduct of the prosecutors in this case. The unlawful taping of the Aisenberg's conversations and the transcription of those tapes that proved to be untrustworthy. The prosecution likely had a case but they turned out to be their own worst enemy.

As for leaving the garage door open overnight, that is possible. I don't like for the fumes to collect and have left mine up intending to go back later and close it. There has been a time or two when I forgot. I think in the Aisenberg's case it was part of the cover up.

With the benefit of hindsight a couple of questions arise. When was the last time Sabrina was seen alive and were cadaver dogs in use back, in 1997?

mommaklee said...

I remember seeing a special on this on 20/20 when I was a kid. My mom asserted it was a Satanic cult that needed a baby for human sacrifice. It left me fearful thinking Satanic cults were out there snatching babies and that they could one day snatch mine.

I am glad to hear and know that most likely the parents did it. Especially by looking at their words.

The "Well, actually" and the "one morning" both bothered me the most. The day my kid disappears would not be just "one day" but "that day". The rest of my life could be divided between before "that day" and after "that day". The jump from calling 911 to police accusing Mrs. Aisenberg was also bothersome. He tells a softened story lacking in detail and urgency for the baby and jumps quickly to the police. Feels like a diversion and avoidance of what really happened.

Tania Cadogan said...

I remeber hearing about this case and at the time knowing something was off. I wasn't hearing what i expected to hear.
There were lots of we's and qualifiers. My hobnobby senses were tingling and i couldn't say why or where.

I relooked at this case after visiting this blog many times and getting to grips with pronouns, qualifers etc and finally understand what i had sensed before and couldn't put my finger on.

Did they ever take polygraphs and did cadaver dogs get used in the house?.

Are they still togeather?
Guilt is going to be eating them alive. the fear of discovery.

Anonymous said...

Please help find Ayla

What if the parent of a missing child makes a statement that contains all these elements:

Denial, "I know I didn't do anything. Everybody that's here knows I didn't do anything,"

Alibi building, : “They left a message on my cell phone, yes. I ‘ve had, I have been applying to college and one of the colleges had been calling (pause) a lot so I had left my phone downstairs because I knew they’d call and wake me up and I like to be up at four when Jessica gets home I’m up. So that is mostly why it was not right next to me. They call when I’m trying to sleep and I need to be rested for her.

Follow the pronouns. She wanted an alarm clock so she could, you know, get up on her own and so her alarm clock goes off and she comes down and she watches TV and she and she eats her granola bar, goes up and gets dressed, comes down and, you know, we peel oranges for her for her snack at school.
b. "And then" skips over time. When time is skipped over, it is considered sensitive and follow up interviews will focus upon this time period. We have the sentence beginning with missing information, and the time period is skipped over.

a. "And" When a sentence begins with the word, "And" it is an indicator of missing information.
. Then, I go to her friends
and you go to her friend’s house and still you don’t hear anything and then you get the pit in your stomach that you don’t want any any parent any parent to ever experience in their whole entire life.

I thought that there was a formula.

Anon October 22, 2012 12:48 PM
it's interesting that in very few instances, can one's argument be proven. Because analyzing statements is not like math where 2 + 2 always = 4

Anonymous said...

I am new to learning about this case so aside from the limited comments so I can’t answer all those questions quite yet.

But I know for me, since I am still only a few months into really understanding statement analysis, the 911 calls for me have been the best indicators.
Especially being that it is at the heart of the situation and likely the most sensitive time I think and they are likely for the first time “building their alibi” which I am sure is the most stressful.
But then I have to admit, that even after 13 years of telling this story, you would think they would have it down and all the jumbled sentances would now flow. Cause at least now, they would know the story enough even if it’s a lie to tell it better.
I noticed that with Jeffrey MacDonald, all these years later his story is just so much clearer. No more stuttering over works, stopping or starting sentences at random times etc. Especially as well spoken as he is. If you look at other parts of his transcripts when it was still fresh, he speaks very clear then you get to the crime and it’s a mess and all over the place. I know peter has referenced this change in times from when its still critical (at a hearing for your life) and sharing with a tv show personality for nothing more than sharing.

Anyways… I have looked for a 911 call for this case. And well for Sarah Ridgeway but have not found anything.
I think that if/when we can get a hole of those, that would be interesting.

And with Sarah, since they have apparently caught the killer and it sounds like some of the girls remains are in/around his home so its not a matter that they have the wrong guy, how do you explain the issues with the moms “statements” especially the past tense use. That her daughter “was the light” of their lives?
Do you think it’s all based in guilt? Like I had I just driven her to school, or walked her to the park, answered the phone? She would be alive?

Anonymous said...

Polls, polls, polls: does this shampoo make my butt look big?

Since this occurred in Fla., and what little I glossed over it, seems the typical crap-get some moron informant to tell lies in exchange for something. Florida hasn't any police force;just political goonery for the most part.

So, they obtained an illegal warrant for house bugging, eh? why not use the informants and vigilantes for that purpose so you don't get sued!

Anonymous said...

Hi Venomous Anon.
Dead horse. You must enjoy beating it.

I am sure you are a parent that has never made one mistake. If you don't have any children....hold your tongue and judgement. I learned that lesson well with my 1st child. I ate some words I so self righteously uttered before I had children.

Lis said...

Do we have a paranoid schizophrenic here among us?

Anonymous said...

Imo the parents know exactly what happened to Sabrina.

Anonymous said...

Not sure who you are but you are on the wrong site that's for sure.

Unknown said...

Hi. Regarding guilt eating them alive. Some people don't feel guilt over anything. Sociopaths do not.

Unknown said...

Hi. Regarding guilt eating them alive. Some people don't feel guilt over anything. Sociopaths do not.