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Poisoning case figure retains an attorney

Published Sep. 27, 2005

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

High-profile attorney Barry Cohen says the poisoning was accidental and that his client might talk with investigators.

The roommate of a couple who died last week in what is thought to be a case of cyanide poisoning has retained high-profile Tampa defense attorney Barry Cohen.

Cohen's call to investigators this week was the first contact Pinellas County investigators have had with 37-year-old Alan-Jan P. Manes since last Thursday morning, when Manes bolted from Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital in Tarpon Springs during a break in questioning.

Although he declined to say where Manes is, Cohen said Wednesday that Manes is not hiding and might talk with investigators. Cohen said Manes maintains the poisoning was accidental.

Sheriff's investigators say Manes is not a suspect, but their suspicions about the deaths of John and Gail Walter were raised when Manes hurriedly left the hospital.

Cohen _ who also represents Steven and Marlene Aisenberg, the couple accused of lying about the disappearance of their 5-month-old daughter, Sabrina, in 1997 _ said Manes' flight was "perfectly understandable."

"I can understand someone in his state of mind, with what was going on, it was understandable," Cohen said.

But he added, "He's no longer in that position."

"He's not hiding," Cohen said. "He's not doing anything that would appear he's hiding from police."

Asked whether he planned to have Manes sit down to talk with detectives, Cohen said: "I don't know. I may. Maybe it would help to get to the bottom of this incident."

Cohen said he has spoken with Manes about the incident, but Cohen declined to discuss what Manes said.

"I don't anticipate that there will be any criminal charges," Cohen said. "Based on what I know, there should not be any."

During a brief interview at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital on Thursday morning, Manes told deputies he had used a solution containing cyanide while electroplating a computer circuit board the night before and left a container in the kitchen to be cleaned. The couple apparently prepared food in the contaminated container and fell ill, he said.

At the hospital, Manes verbally consented to allow a search of the home, but hospital officials said he bolted when deputies left briefly to get consent forms.

Investigators searched for Manes on Thursday and Friday but were unable to find him. Early Friday morning, Manes was briefly detained for a traffic offense in Dalton, Ga.

Cohen said he spoke with Manes shortly after he left, but Cohen would not say what day.

"He (Manes) is very distraught about the death of his two friends," Cohen said. "It is a very sad situation for him."

Gail and John Walters were divorced in 1991. Manes met Gail Walters when he was a patient at The Manors, a psychiatric facility, and she was a nurse there. The three had been living together for several years.

Cohen said Manes would not speak to a reporter about the incident.

"He's in an emotional state," Cohen said. "These were two of his dearest friends in life and this has caused him serious, serious grief. It is very troubling to him."

Although he would not discuss Manes' account of events last week, Cohen said Manes maintains it was an accident.

"From what he knows about it, absolutely," Cohen said.

Sheriff's Lt. Stephen Shipman said Wednesday that investigators are awaiting toxicology and autopsy results from the medical examiner's office, which may take several weeks to complete.

"There's not a lot more for us to do," Shipman said.

Shipman said earlier in the week that the search uncovered nothing to contradict Manes' version of the incident.