Former detective, L.A. Stephanie Lazarus, found guilty in cold case murder of ex-lover's wife Sherri Rasmussen/Gets 27 Years To Life In Prison.

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Normal Former detective, L.A. Stephanie Lazarus, found guilty in cold case murder of ex-lover's wife Sherri Rasmussen/Gets 27 Years To Life In Prison.

Post by lisette on Fri Mar 09, 2012 8:46 am

LOS ANGELES – A former Los Angeles police detective was found guilty Thursday of the 26-year-old murder of the wife of her former lover in a case that hinged on a single piece of evidence -- DNA from a bite mark on the victim's arm.

The first-degree murder conviction came after a three-week trial that included testimony from a forensic expert who said the DNA was a match to defendant Stephanie Lazarus.

Her defense attorney countered that the DNA was packaged improperly and deteriorated while stored in a coroner's freezer for two decades. He also suggested there might have been evidence tampering.

Lazarus could face 27 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole when she is sentenced for the murder and a gun enhancement imposed by the jury.

The case was submitted to jurors on Tuesday after intense closing arguments by both sides.

Victim Sherri Rasmussen was bludgeoned and shot to death in 1986 in the condo she shared with her husband of three months.

Detectives initially believed two robbers who had attacked another woman in the area were to blame. But two decades later, a cold case team using DNA analysis concluded the killer was a woman and authorities began looking at Lazarus as a suspect.

During the trial, prosecutors focused on the relationship of Lazarus and John Ruetten, who became her lover after they graduated from college.

He testified that he never intended to marry Lazarus, although they were intimate for about a year. He also said she enticed him into having sex with her shortly before his wedding.

"Here's the deal," he testified. "It was clear she was very upset that I was getting married and moving on."

Lazarus' lawyer, Mark Overland, ridiculed the claim of a fatal attraction between Lazarus and Ruetten, saying she never tried to reunite with her former lover after his wife was gone,
"So this obsessing with John must have fizzled out I guess," he said.

Lazarus went on to marry another policeman and adopt a daughter. She rose in the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department, becoming a detective in charge of art forgeries and thefts.

Overland also pointed to the lack of physical evidence against her. No blood, fingerprints, hair or fibers connected her to the scene.

But prosecutor Shannon Presby told jurors the case was based on more than just DNA. At the outset of the trial, he said it featured "a bite, a bullet, a gun barrel and a broken heart."

Lazarus' gun was never found, but Presby called experts to testify that bullets fired into Rasmussen's body matched those issued to police officers in 1986.

Lazarus' husband attended most of the trial along with other family members. Ruetten sat across the courtroom with Rasmussen's family.

The deathly pale defendant and her white-haired former boyfriend never looked at each other.

But their past moved before them on a movie screen as both sides showed pictures of them as a young couple.

Among the trial's most dramatic moments came when Ruetten testified tearfully about finding his wife slain. He said it never entered his mind that Lazarus might be responsible.


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Normal Ex-LAPD detective convicted of murder faces 27 years to life

Post by raine1953 on Fri Mar 09, 2012 3:44 pm

Former Los Angeles Police Det. Stephanie Lazarus, who was found guilty Thursday of murdering the wife of a man who had spurned her, faces a sentence of 27 years to life in prison.

Lazarus will be sentenced on May 4. A corrections official told The Times she would be eligible for parole after about 14 years.

Thursday's verdict brought to an end to a remarkable case in which a new generation of the LAPD redeemed the failures of a past one.

The department had to confront awkward questions about why detectives two decades ago did not pursue Lazarus, with her apparently obvious motive, as a suspect in the 1986 slaying of Sherri Rasmussen, a 29-year-old nursing director.

Three months before the attack, Rasmussen, a 29-year-old hospital nursing director, had married John Ruetten, who dated Lazarus casually for a few years leading up to the wedding.

"This case was a tragedy on every level," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement released after the verdict. "To the family of Sherri Rasmussen, I am truly sorry for the loss of your wife, of your daughter. I am also sorry it took us so long to solve this case and bring a measure of justice to this tragedy.... It shows the tenacity of the detectives on the LAPD who will work tirelessly to bring a case to justice, whether that case takes them around the world or across the hall."

The case went cold for years as Lazarus built a successful career as a specialist in art fraud and theft cases. She married another LAPD detective and the couple adopted a young girl.

The case was reopened in 2009 and the advances in DNA testing helped lead back to Lazarus after a saliva sample taken from a bite mark on Rasmussen pointed to a woman.

Undercover officers spent weeks following Lazarus and eventually snatched a cup she discarded in a garbage can and rushed it to the lab. Jurors heard from DNA experts who testified that the test results were unambiguous: It had been Lazarus' saliva in the bite mark.

A jury of eight women and four men agreed. They deliberated less than two days before finding Lazarus guilty of first-degree murder.
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Sherri Rasmussen (L) Stephanie Lazarus (R)
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Normal Detective stalked slaying victim, father says

Post by raine1953 on Fri Mar 09, 2012 4:20 pm

June 10, 2009

Nels Rasmussen says he told LAPD detectives in 1986 that a jealous ex-girlfriend had broken into his daughter's condo and told her 'If I can't have John, nobody can,' in the days before her slaying.

Nels Rasmussen says he vividly remembers the calls from his daughter 23 years ago when she confided her fears that a jealous LAPD officer was out to harm her. She told him the young female officer had shown up in uniform at the hospital where she worked and issued a chilling warning about her husband, "If I can't have John, nobody can."

He remembers the call when his daughter told him that she had found the officer, again in uniform, standing in the Van Nuys condo she shared with her new husband, John Ruetten. Then there was the call, days before she was beaten and shot to death in 1986, when Sherri Rasmussen said she believed the officer had been following her on city streets.

All of this, Nels Rasmussen says, he told Los Angeles Police Department detectives in the days, months and years after his daughter's slaying. His information was ignored by police until this year when cold-case detectives reopened the homicide investigation. Last week his suspicions were validated when Det. Stephanie Lazarus was arrested and charged with capital murder. Police say Lazarus, who had dated Ruetten, killed Sherri Rasmussen in a crime of passion.

On Tuesday, as Lazarus made her first court appearance, Nels Rasmussen and his wife held a news conference, calling on the LAPD to investigate their belief that detectives overlooked glaring leads that pointed to Lazarus. Speaking through his attorney, Rasmussen said he was "extremely pleased and relieved" about the arrest. Though the couple praised current detectives, the lawyer said "the investigation of 1986 is a completely different story."

LAPD spokeswoman Mary Grady said the department has begun the process of figuring out why the original detectives failed to consider Lazarus a suspect.

"We will be working not only on the current case, but will also investigate the original homicide investigation," Grady said. "We're going to look at everything we can to bring to some justice to the family."

Sherri Rasmussen was an accomplished 29-year-old nursing director at Glendale Adventist Hospital. On Feb. 24, 1986, her husband returned to their Van Nuys condominium to discover his wife's badly beaten body on the living room floor. She had been shot several times. The couple's marriage license had been stolen from the condo, according to news reports at the time.

Days after the slaying, two men robbed a woman in the area at gunpoint. The lead detective in the case, Lyle Mayer, and his partner Roger Pida pursued the theory that the same men had killed Rasmussen when she came upon them burglarizing her home, according to police and a recent interview with the now-retired Mayer.

Within days of the killing, Rasmussen's parents drove to Los Angeles to meet with Mayer and Pida, according to their attorneys John C. Taylor and David Ring. In that first interview, Taylor said, Rasmussen told the detectives that Ruetten had previously dated an LAPD officer.

He asked if they had identified her and examined her for scratches or other signs of the vicious struggle that police say preceded the murder, according to Taylor.

Rasmussen had further conversations with the detectives over the next several months. But they rebuffed the father's claims, once telling him, "You've been watching too much TV," Taylor said.

Rasmussen grew so frustrated that about two years after the killing, he wrote a letter to then-Chief Daryl F. Gates, asking him to intervene. Police familiar with the case have acknowledged the existence of the letter. When the plea to Gates went nowhere, Rasmussen and his wife kept trying, making calls to the Van Nuys police station, their attorneys said.

Often the parents were put on hold for up to 20 minutes or were hung up on, and at one point were told by a detective, "you should do yourselves a favor and move on with your lives," Taylor said. Eventually, about five years after the killing, they gave up and stopped calling.

Detectives knew that Lazarus was the ex-girlfriend Rasmussen had spoken of. Mayer said in an interview last week that Ruetten identified her as an "acquaintance." And police sources say there is a passing reference to Lazarus in the case file.

Mayer, however, contradicted Rasmussen's recollections, saying he never discussed Lazarus with Rasmussen's parents. The retired detective said he never interviewed Lazarus.

Mayer left the department in 1991 still believing that Sherri Rasmussen had been killed during a burglary, he said. The only things stolen, however, were the marriage license and Rasmussen's car. When told of the family's allegations, Mayer declined to comment.

In February, cold-case detectives revisited the case -- one of thousands that remain unsolved. DNA samples from the crime scene thought to have been from the killer suggested that the attacker was a woman, contradicting the detectives' theory that Rasmussen had been killed by a man.
An undercover officer followed Lazarus to a store, where he secretly recovered a plastic utensil or similar discarded item with her saliva, police say. Her DNA matched the genetic profile extracted from the crime scene evidence, police allege.

Before meeting the phalanx of television cameras and reporters, the Rasmussens sat stoically in the courtroom watching Lazarus as she was led into the courtroom's dock around 10 a.m. Lazarus, 49, was dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, with her hands cuffed and secured to a chain around her waist. She spoke quietly with her attorney through a narrow, barred window and, for a moment, turned to take in the packed courtroom.

The judge granted a request by Lazarus' attorney to postpone her arraignment until July 6. Lazarus, who is being held without bail, could not be reached. Her attorney, Mark R. Pachowicz, declined to comment.

In her 25 years as a patrol officer and detective, Lazarus never had any serious discipline problems, sources with knowledge of her career said. Considered a solid detective, she earned a high-profile assignment in 2006 tracking stolen art and forgeries.

Lazarus could face the death penalty because prosecutors have alleged a special circumstance in the case: that she killed Rasmussen in the course of a robbery. A decision by prosecutors whether to seek death will be made at a later date, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney's office.
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Post by raine1953 on Fri Mar 09, 2012 4:33 pm

BBM above.
I am so glad that Lazarus was found guilty of first degree murder and I hope the judge gives her the max! This female killed her ex bf's new wife in '86 and just continued along with her life as if nothing ever happened. What the parents of Sherri Rasmussen have went thru' for the last 25 years was so unjust and so unnecessary. I'm glad they were still alive to see justice was finally done but the way LAPD treated them during the few years after their daughter's murder was terrible and I hope they file a lawsuit against LAPD for millions. I'm grateful that this case was reopened and justice was finally served but I'm waiting to see if LAPD really does investigate the detectives assigned to the case in '86, even thou' they are retired they deserve to be investigated either for just sloppy work or not wanting to investigate one of their own.
This case just makes me so mad! angry
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Post by Guest on Fri Mar 09, 2012 8:00 pm

Thanks for posting this story and the outcome of the trial.
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Post by raine1953 on Fri Mar 09, 2012 8:11 pm

I've been angry about this case since she was arrested in 2009. My heart went out to the elderly parents who had practically told LE who did it and they wouldn't listen. I'm so glad that they lived to see the day Lazarus would go down for their daughter's vicious murder.
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Post by lisette on Fri Mar 09, 2012 8:15 pm

It looks like her husband would have been highly suspicious of Lazarus. Surely Sherri told him about the incidences where Lazarus confronted her. There is no mention in the articles above about him pushing LAPD like her parents did.
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Post by lisette on Fri Mar 09, 2012 8:24 pm

A corrections official told The Times she would be eligible for parole after about 14 years.

Unreal!! I mean she's been merrily living her life for 25 years...and she could get out in 14 years?? What about Sherri? She didn't get to enjoy her marriage, advance in her career, have children, grandchildren...And what about the torment that her parents have been through for 25 years?! angry
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Post by raine1953 on Fri Mar 09, 2012 8:30 pm

No lie Lisette! When I heard yesterday that she would likely be sentenced to 25 to life I was so hoping it would be closer to life, then I hear 14 years!!! What a flipping joke the justice system is. And that system failed Sherri for 25 long years, if Lazarus gets out in 14 years it's a slap in the face to Sherri and family!
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Post by lisette on Fri Mar 09, 2012 8:46 pm

Some interesting info from husband's testimony:

Stephanie Lazarus Murder Case: Weeping Widower Testifies

LOS ANGELES -- The weeping widower of a woman murdered 26 years ago testified Wednesday about a love triangle that prosecutors believe led his former lover – then a Los Angeles police officer – to kill his wife.

Defendant Stephanie Lazarus avoided the gaze of witness John Ruetten as he said he never considered Lazarus to be his girlfriend, even though they had a long sexual relationship.

"What was your understanding of the relationship?" Deputy District Attorney Shannon Presby asked.

"We were good friends," Ruetten said. "We saw each other on and off, and on some of those occasions we had sexual intercourse."

The tall, gray-haired Ruetten was overcome several times during his testimony, pulling tissues from a box on the witness stand to wipe his eyes as he spoke of Sherri Rasmussen, his murdered wife.

He also told of his friendship with Lazarus that dated back to their days as students at UCLA. There was only "necking and fooling around" in their college years, he said.

Jurors were shown pictures of them together as college kids, including one of Ruetten with his arm around Lazarus in her cap and gown at graduation.

Ruetten, 53, wearing a dark business suit, testified that he met Rasmussen in 1984 at a party and they quickly became a couple. When they were engaged, he said, he felt no need to tell Lazarus because he had not seen her for months.

However, he said she later learned of the engagement, summoned him to her condo and through tears expressed her love for him. She also asked him to have sex with her, which he said he did but now considers it a stupid move. He stressed that nothing changed that night.

"Here's the deal," he said. "It was clear she was very upset that I was getting married and moving on."

Later, he said, he confessed the incident to Rasmussen and told her: "Don't let this mess us up. I want nothing more in the world than to be married to you."

He also said he ended all contact with Lazarus, who has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Rasmussen.

Ruetten identified blissful photos of the couple's wedding on Nov. 23, 1985. Lazarus did not look up as the photos flashed on a courtroom screen.

Rasmussen was killed on Feb. 24, 1986, bludgeoned and shot to death by an intruder at the condo where she and Ruetten lived.

Prosecutors are trying to show that Lazarus sought revenge for being spurned by Ruetten.

Later in the day, Ruetten told of returning home from work on Feb. 24, 1986, to find his wife dead on the living room floor.

"I was reeling," he said. "I was in shock."

He said he put a blanket over his wife's face, called 911 and made himself available to police for interviews. But he said he never lived in the condo again, quit his job and moved out of Los Angeles. He said he didn't mention Lazarus to police as a possible suspect in the murder because, "It never crossed my mind that she could be involved."

He said he was later assured by a homicide detective that Lazarus was not a suspect, and that his wife was most likely killed by burglars.

He went to live with his parents in San Diego, and in 1989 he made contact with Lazarus again and met up with her in Hawaii. When he moved back to the Los Angeles area the next year, he said he contacted her and they had sex again at least twice.

"In those times when you saw the defendant, did she ever ask about Sherri's death?" asked Presby.

"No," said Ruetten.

When the case was reopened in 2009, he said he voluntarily gave a DNA sample. Presby asked if he had anything to do with the killing and he said no.

On cross-examination, Lazarus' lawyer, Mark Overland, stressed that the relationship with the police woman was more serious than Ruetten said.

Ruetten acknowledged that Lazarus knew his entire family and in September 1984, unaware of his relationship with Rasmussen, Lazarus threw a surprise 25th birthday party for Ruetten.

Under Overland's questioning, Ruetten insisted, "I always just made it clear we were just friends and this wasn't going toward marriage."

Another witness, retired Los Angeles police officer Mike Hargreaves, said he lived at Lazarus' condo for a year and recalled that she woke him once in the middle of the night and said Ruetten had broken up with her.

"She said John told her he was going to marry someone else," Hargreaves said.

He said Lazarus, who was exceptionally fit, suggested they do "buddy sit-ups" together and she felt better after that.

Ruetten's sister, Gail Lopes, showed jurors a letter to her mother from Lazarus that was postmarked Aug. 6, 1985.

In it, Lazarus told Mrs. Ruetten: ""I'm truly in love with John and the past year has really torn me up. I wish it didn't end the way it did, and I don't think I'll ever understand his decision."

In subsequent years, Lazarus married and adopted a daughter. She rose to the rank of detective and was honored for her work in the art forgery section.

She was arrested in 2009 after forensic experts, examining the file on Rasmussen's murder, linked her DNA to a bite mark on the slain woman's arm.

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Post by Guest on Fri Mar 09, 2012 8:50 pm

It is quite the story. A search on John Ruetten brought up this article about his testimony.
Ruetten, 53, calmly answered questions from Deputy Dist. Atty. Shannon Presby about how he and Lazarus met while students at UCLA and dated casually for a few years after graduating from college.

Although they took trips together, went on dates and had sex many times, Ruetten said, he never considered Lazarus his girlfriend and was dating other people at the time.

Ruetten's steady demeanor cracked when the questioning turned to him meeting Rasmussen, a director of nursing at an area hospital. His voice broke with emotion as he identified Rasmussen in a photograph — the first of several times that he broke down in tears during his testimony.

Within a year of their meeting, Ruetten said, he and Rasmussen were engaged.

A few weeks later, Ruetten said he received a phone call from Lazarus, who was crying and asking him to come to her apartment. He did so and said he found her distraught over his decision to marry another woman, which struck him as odd since he had not spoken with Lazarus for more than a year and believed they were "friends, just friends."

Lazarus, he said, asked repeatedly that night to have sex with him and he agreed. Calling the decision "stupid," Ruetten told the jury, "I was over my head. I didn't know what to do, how to calm her down."

Not long after, Ruetten recalled, Rasmussen arrived home from work and angrily confronted him about Lazarus, who prosecutors have alleged went to the hospital where Rasmussen worked and told her about the sexual encounter. Ruetten said he confessed to Rasmussen and begged her not to break off their engagement.

Ruetten said he had no more contact with Lazarus and went on to marry Rasmussen in late 1985. He recounted returning home from work on Feb. 24, 1986, three months after the wedding, to find his wife's body on the living room floor of their Van Nuys town house. She had been shot three times at close range in the chest and beaten badly.

He recalled speaking that night with Lyle Mayer, the lead homicide detective assigned to the case, who told Ruetten that he believed from evidence at the scene that Rasmussen had been killed by intruders who were trying to rob the house. "It never crossed my mind that Stephanie was involved," Ruetten said Wednesday.

Before the end of the day, Lazarus' attorney Mark Overland began his cross-examination, pressing Ruetten on the seriousness of his relationship with Lazarus.

Ruetten acknowledged that it was unusual for him to introduce a woman to his family — something he did with Lazarus, who apparently joined Ruetten's family on a trip and at family events. Overland appeared to be trying to poke holes in Ruetten's description of his relationship with Lazarus and imply that it was more serious than he let on.

Mike Hargreaves, a retired LAPD officer who was roommates with Lazarus, also testified Wednesday.

He recalled that Lazarus told him repeatedly that she was reluctant to date men unless they were "tall, athletic and like John … handsome like John."
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Post by Nama on Sat Mar 10, 2012 12:29 am

I'm watching this story on Dateline right now.....it can be watched on the internet later if anyone missed tonight's Dateline.

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Post by Nama on Sat Mar 10, 2012 1:44 am

Too long to post
Very interesting details of the trial:

TRIALS & TRIBULATIONS
SPROCKET & COMPANY IN DEPTH, TRUE CRIME REPORTING

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Post by Wrapitup on Sat Mar 10, 2012 4:39 am

Ex-LAPD detective found guilty of killing romantic rival in 1986
Stephanie Lazarus is emotionless as she is convicted of beating and shooting the wife of a man who had spurned her. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck issues extraordinary apology to the victim's family.

By Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
March 9, 2012

A jury found former Los Angeles Police Det. Stephanie Lazarus guilty of murdering the wife of a man who had spurned her, bringing an end to a remarkable case in which a new generation of the LAPD redeemed the failures of a past one.

On Thursday, after little more than a day of deliberation, the panel of eight women and four men concluded that Lazarus brutally beat and then shot Sherri Rasmussen three times in the chest on Feb. 24, 1986. Three months before the attack, Rasmussen, a 29-year-old hospital nursing director, had married John Ruetten, who dated Lazarus casually for a few years leading up to the wedding.

The verdict broke a tense silence in a cramped downtown Los Angeles courtroom full of the victim's family, relatives of Lazarus and journalists.

The case drew national attention for its sensational story line of a love-sick cop killing a woman she viewed as a romantic rival and then somehow managing to bury her dark secret.

Beyond that, however, the case was a study of stark contrasts between the best and worst of the Los Angeles Police Department, leading Chief Charlie Beck to issue an extraordinary apology to the victim's family.

"This case was a tragedy on every level," Beck said. "To the family of Sherri Rasmussen, I am truly sorry for the loss of your wife, of your daughter. I am also sorry it took us so long to solve this case and bring a measure of justice to this tragedy.... It shows the tenacity of the detectives on the LAPD who will work tirelessly to bring a case to justice, whether that case takes them around the world or across the hall."

Although any police officer on trial for murder is a rarity, the Lazarus case was particularly compelling. It pitted the LAPD against one of its own, forcing homicide detectives to push aside the strong familial bonds officers feel for each other and treat Lazarus as they would any other murder suspect.

The department also had to confront awkward questions about why detectives two decades ago did not pursue Lazarus, with her apparently obvious motive, as a suspect. Had they been protecting a fellow cop or was it simply sloppy detective work?

John Taylor, an attorney representing the Rasmussen family, deflected such questions, choosing instead to praise the current LAPD detectives who reopened the case.

"The family is relieved that this 26-year nightmare was concluded with the positive identification of who killed their daughter and sister."

Lazarus, 51, who served more than 25 years in the LAPD and retired while she sat in jail awaiting trial, showed no emotion as the court clerk read the verdict.

Because the jury found her guilty of first-degree murder, state law requires that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry sentence Lazarus to life in prison with the possibility of parole in about 14 years, a state corrections official said. Perry scheduled sentencing for May 4.

Prosecutors Shannon Presby and Paul Nunez argued during the monthlong trial that Lazarus harbored deep feelings for Ruetten and was driven to kill by the jealousy she felt over his decision to marry someone else.

Through diary entries, a forlorn letter Lazarus wrote to Ruetten's mother, and testimony from Ruetten about Lazarus tearfully pleading with him to reconsider his decision, they presented jurors with a portrait of a heartbroken woman.

It was Ruetten, who attended much of the trial with Rasmussen's parents and sisters, who discovered his wife's body on the living room floor of their Van Nuys town house.

The attacker had smashed a vase over her head and shot her at close range while Rasmussen apparently lay motionless, taking the time to wrap the gun in a thick blanket that lay nearby to muffle the noise of the gunshots. A bite mark on Rasmussen's arm spoke to the struggle she had put up.

At the time of the killing, the lead detective assigned to the case, Lyle Mayer, was convinced that Rasmussen had been killed by two men trying to burglarize her home.

Mayer ignored repeated pleas from Rasmussen's father that he look into whether a woman the family knew only as their son-in-law's "ex-girlfriend, who is an LAPD officer" could have killed their daughter. He told Mayer about a disturbing confrontation his daughter had had with the woman shortly before she was killed.

Mayer's notes from the case show that he had identified Lazarus but, in an interview with The Times, he said he never considered her a suspect.

Rasmussen's father grew so distraught over Mayer's refusal to investigate Lazarus that he wrote a letter to then-Chief Daryl Gates asking him to intervene. That led to nothing, however, and the case went cold after Mayer retired.

Lazarus went on to build a successful career. She worked patrol assignments for years, eventually earning a promotion to detective and becoming a specialist in art fraud and theft cases. She married another LAPD detective and the couple adopted a young girl, now 5.

In 2009, as historically low homicide rates freed detectives to look at unsolved cases, a homicide investigator reopened the Rasmussen case.

By then the department's crime lab had conducted DNA testing — which didn't exist at the time of the killing — on a saliva sample taken from the bite mark and concluded that it had come from a woman.

Realizing that this upended Mayer's theory of two male burglars, the detective began from scratch and quickly identified Lazarus as a suspect. Undercover officers spent weeks following Lazarus in an effort to collect a sample of her DNA surreptitiously.

They eventually snatched a cup she discarded in a garbage can and rushed it to the lab. Jurors heard from DNA experts who testified that the test results were unambiguous: It had been Lazarus' saliva in the bite mark.

Prosecutors also built a circumstantial case that Lazarus killed Rasmussen with a small revolver she owned.

Ballistics experts testified that the bullets collected from Rasmussen's body were the specific type issued to LAPD officers in 1986, and markings on the bullets were telltale signs of having been fired from a snub-nosed .38-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun like the one Lazarus owned.

Two weeks after the killing, Lazarus reported to Santa Monica police that someone had broken into her car and stolen the revolver.

Mark Overland, Lazarus' hired attorney, struggled to counter the prosecutors' case.

He mounted a defense that lasted only two days — a meager showing compared to the 51 witnesses the prosecution put on over three weeks — and tried to undermine the credibility of the saliva swab by raising questions about the way it had been handled and stored over the years.

Although the seal on the plastic tube that contained the swab was intact, Overland said a hole in the envelope in which the tube was stored pointed either to tampering or contamination.

Lazarus, who had remained in custody in lieu of $10-million bail since her arrest in 2009, did not take the stand in her own defense.

Overland, who said he plans to file an appeal arguing that Perry was wrong to restrict him from pursuing certain lines of argument in the trial, said he was perplexed by the speed with which the jury reached its decision.

"It showed," he said, "we never had a chance."

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Normal Full Stephanie Lazarus Interrogation Video

Post by Wrapitup on Sat Mar 10, 2012 4:41 am

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Normal Re: Former detective, L.A. Stephanie Lazarus, found guilty in cold case murder of ex-lover's wife Sherri Rasmussen/Gets 27 Years To Life In Prison.

Post by lisette on Mon Sep 03, 2012 9:05 pm

Stephanie Lazarus Sentence: Ex-LAPD Detective Gets 27 Years To Life In Prison

LOS ANGELES — A former Los Angeles police detective was sentenced Friday to 27 years to life in prison for murdering the wife of her former lover 26 years ago.

Stephanie Lazarus, 52, was found guilty in March of killing Sherri Rasmussen, a nurse who was bludgeoned and shot to death in the condo she shared with her husband of three months, John Ruetten.

Rasmussen's mother, sister and widower spoke during the sentencing hearing about their pain and described the victim as a warm, caring and loving person.

Ruetten told the judge he still grieves.

"The fact that Sherri's death occurred because she met and married me, brings me to my knees," he said. "I do not know ... how to cope with this appalling fact."

Superior Court Judge Robert Perry gave Lazarus a term of 25 years to life for first-degree murder and an additional two years for personal use of a firearm. He said Lazarus would be credited with 1,608 days, or nearly 4 1/2 years, for good behavior and time already served.

Her defense attorney said an appeal has been filed.

Outside court, Lazarus' brother and mother said their hearts go out to Rasmussen's family, but they still support Lazarus and believe she did not get a fair trial.

"There was never a presumption of innocence," said Steve Lazarus. "The media got to listen to DNA and guilt for 2 1/2 years before Stephanie had her trial."
During the trial, prosecutors focused on the romantic relationship between Lazarus and Ruetten after they graduated from college. They claim Lazarus was consumed with jealousy when Ruetten decided to marry Rasmussen.

The case hinged on DNA from a bite mark prosecutors say was left by Lazarus on Rasmussen's arm.

Defense attorneys argued the DNA evidence was corrupted over the years and could not be considered reliable.

Lazarus was not a suspect in 1986 because detectives then believed two robbers who had attacked another woman in the area were to blame for Rasmussen's death. The case file, however, did mention Lazarus because of her relationship with Ruetten.

No suspects were found and the case went cold until May 2009, when undercover officers followed Lazarus and obtained a sample of her saliva to compare with DNA left at the original crime scene, police Chief Charlie Beck said at the time.

Prosecutors suggested Lazarus knew to avoid leaving other evidence such as fingerprints. The idea that saliva from a bite mark could be her undoing was inconceivable in 1986 when DNA wasn't used as a forensic tool.

Prosecutors asked the judge for the maximum sentence.

"Her efforts to mislead the initial homicide investigators permitted her to avoid justice for this crime for more than 20 years," prosecutors wrote in court documents. "It is bleakly ironic that the defendant's long-running deception now benefits her with respect to sentencing."

Defense attorney Mark Overland had pointed out, however, that his client's personnel file is replete with commendations throughout her 26-year career and did not contain a single allegation of improper conduct or excessive force.

Overland added there was no evidence presented at trial that showed Lazarus knew where Ruetten and Rasmussen lived or that she knew their phone number.

"How Ms. Lazarus could have known that Ms. Rasmussen decided on the morning (of the killing) not to go to work and stay home has never been explained," Overland wrote in court documents. "Additionally, after the killing, Ms. Lazarus never initiated any contact with Ruetten."

Lazarus rose in the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department, becoming a detective in charge of art forgeries and thefts. Her husband attended most of the trial, along with other family members.

The Rasmussen family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the LAPD and the city of Los Angeles.

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Normal Re: Former detective, L.A. Stephanie Lazarus, found guilty in cold case murder of ex-lover's wife Sherri Rasmussen/Gets 27 Years To Life In Prison.

Post by lisette on Mon Sep 03, 2012 9:09 pm

For the Rasmussen family, justice could have prevailed long ago—but for the LAPD’s refusal to consider Lazarus a suspect. Detectives at the time operated under the theory that Sherri’s murder was the result of a burglary gone wrong. Nels Rasmussen, Sherri’s father, says he implored LAPD to investigate Lazarus, whom he claimed had been harassing his daughter. Rasmussen says he was ignored. The family is pursuing a lawsuit against the police department. In the words of their civil attorney, John C. Taylor, “There should be some kind of accountability. They owe answers to the family.”

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