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The Sabrina Aisenberg case

Informant is transferred and isolated

TAMPA — A self-described informant in the Sabrina Aisenberg investigation awoke Tuesday in a new prison, locked in confinement, his attorney says.

Dennis Byron, 34, refused to go into protective confinement after authorities moved him from the Gainesville Correctional Institution to the Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City on Monday, Largo lawyer John Trevena said.

"They said, 'That's not your decision,' " Trevena said. He said his client was transferred because the Department of Corrections thought the Gainesville facility lacked the security Byron needs.

The development came three days after the St. Petersburg Times first reported Byron's role at the center of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's investigation into the 1997 disappearance of Sabrina Aisenberg, a 5-month-old Valrico girl.

Trevena said he plans to write to the governor's office today to ask that a special prosecutor be named to investigate the sheriff's dealings in the case.

Byron agreed to wear a wire in jail and record conversations with a friend and cell mate while trying to get information on how the baby vanished.

"My client has suffered greatly trying to help them and now he's in protective custody and he's suffering more," Trevena said.

Byron told attorneys last week that he wore the wire for sheriff's detectives, recording jail cell conversations with 44-year-old Scott Overbeck. Overbeck told Byron he disposed of Sabrina's body by chopping it up and dumping the pieces in crab traps in waters near the Courtney Campbell Parkway, according to a sworn statement Byron gave investigators.

Also Tuesday, a woman who gave her name only as "Rhonda" appeared on the Bubba the Love Sponge morning radio show in an effort to validate the stories coming out about Overbeck.

Her attorney, Kevin Hayslett, said Overbeck told the woman when they were roommates that although he didn't kill Sabrina, he did dispose of the baby's body in crab traps.

Trevena identified the woman as Carrie Leece, Bryon's girlfriend.

Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee said Tuesday that the allegations were thoroughly investigated over the course of a year. "These names came to us, we pulled out all the stops," he said. "We ran this thing down."

But Gee appeared to try to rein in expectations about the status of the case in light of a recent media firestorm.

While the Aisenberg investigation overall is still "very much active," this part is "pretty much done" for now pending further investigation, he said.

"There's nothing I know that we can do to run it down right now," he said. But he also added: "There's still some people in our office who believe this guy might have something. . . . Right now, there's not a lot we can do with that particular lead."

Trevena called the characterization farcical. The Largo lawyer says he was told last week by a Sheriff's Office attorney that the agency had "rock solid evidence" in the case.

Both Trevena and Barry Cohen, attorney for the parents of Sabrina Aisenberg, criticized the Sheriff's Office this week, saying detectives tried to implicate Cohen in the baby's disappearance.

The Sheriff's Office maintains it has never targeted Cohen, attorney for Steve and Marlene Aisenberg.

Overbeck, the son of a Dana Shores construction company owner, is being held at the Pinellas County Jail on unrelated federal charges.

Also Tuesday, Trevena filed a motion asking a judge to correct the "illegal sentence" imposed on Byron, who expected that in return for his cooperation in obtaining information about the Aisenberg case, prosecutors would agree to allow a judge to reduce his sentence, according to his sworn statements.

But all of that went afoul, according to public records.

At the time that Byron says he was approached by detectives, he was serving a minimum mandatory sentence on charges of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. Three months later, the court reconsidered that sentence, giving him 24 months of community control — a form of house arrest — with the condition that he complete a residential drug treatment program at Operation PAR in Pinellas County.

But Byron fled the program and was rearrested Feb. 8.

When he tried to get leniency from a new judge, based on his previous efforts for the Sheriff's Office, a prosecutor said detectives had severed ties. The judge instead revoked the community control and sentenced Byron to five years in prison — a sentence Trevena says is illegal.

"It is null and void because the court lacked jurisdiction to impose it," Trevena wrote in his motion Tuesday, calling for a 36-month prison sentence.

Times staff writer Sue Carlton contributed to this report.

Informant is transferred and isolated 07/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 10:34am]
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