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LAPD detective accused of 1986 slaying seeks dismissal of case

Lazarusi An L.A. police detective accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend's wife was deprived of her constitutional rights, her lawyer said today, and the case against her should be dismissed.

In a 20-page motion filed this morning, defense attorney Mark E. Overland argued that police investigators who handled the 1986 murder missed obvious clues and evidence that should have identified his client, Stephanie Lazarus, as a suspect. 

That oversight, Overland said in the novel legal gambit, deprived Lazarus of her due process rights since she must now defend herself against the charges 23 years after the crime, when much of the evidence has been damaged or lost and many of the witnesses' memories have faded.

Overland inventoried several crucial elements of the case file that he said authorities cannot locate today, including audio-taped witness interviews, tapes of 911 calls and other police communications, gun-residue analysis and the victim's toxicology report. 

Also unaccounted for were audiotapes and reports detailing a polygraph test that was allegedly taken -- and failed -- by the victim's husband, John Ruetten, according to Overland's motion to dismiss the case. The attorney said a second lie-detector test was not administered.

On Feb. 24, 1986, Ruetten said he came home from work to discover his wife of three months dead in their Van Nuys town home. Sherrie Rae Rasmussen, an accomplished hospital administrator, had been badly beaten and shot several times. Her car had been stolen.

Shortly after the slaying, two men robbed a woman in the area at gunpoint. LAPD detectives theorized that the same men had killed Rasmussen when she came upon them burglarizing her home. The lead detective in the case said he never questioned Lazarus during the investigation and that when he retired in 1991, he still believed the victim had been killed during a burglary.

But in his court filing, Overland sought to highlight flaws in the original police investigation, saying essentially that if Lazarus was going to be charged, it should have been at the time of the killing. He called LAPD  detectives "either negligent or reckless" for overlooking  his client as a possible suspect in the first place and seeming to ignore suggestions -- or failing to interview altogether -- Rasmussen's friends and relatives.

A few weeks after Rasmussen's slaying, for example, Ruetten mentioned Lazarus to LAPD detectives as a possible suspect, according to the court documents. Months later, in November,  Ruetten contacted LAPD homicide investigators to verify that Lazarus, an LAPD officer, was his former girlfriend, the defense alleges.

The victim's father, Nels Rasmussen, went further, according to the defense motion. The day after his daughter died, Nels Rasmussen asked detectives if they had "checked out John Ruetten's ex-girlfriend, an LAPD officer," according to the filing. In December 1986, Rasmussen allegedly told the lead detective in the case that his daughter had been threatened by an ex-girlfriend who was an LAPD officer. 

Rasmussen's roommate, who was not identified in the court filing, verified Ruetten's ex-girlfriend was an LAPD officer who confronted Rasmussen, dressed "provocatively and said she would be there to pick up the pieces if Sherrie Rasmussen did not keep her husband happy."  She was not interviewed until this year, the filing notes.

And Rasmussen's secretary at Glendale Adventist Hospital, Sylvia Nielsen, witnessed a confrontation between Rasmussen and an unknown person before the slaying. Police were told about the confrontation in 1988. Nielsen died in 2000. Detectives also failed to interview any of Lazarus' police colleagues around the time of the killing to see if they had seen signs of violent struggle.

After laying dormant for years, LAPD detectives revisited the Rasmussen case in February as part of an ongoing effort to solve thousands of old homicides, testing blood or saliva samples from the crime scene thought to have been left behind by the killer. Genetic testing indicated the attacker was a woman, contradicting detectives' earlier theory of a male killer.

Additional interviews led them to Lazarus, who was followed to a store by an undercover officer who secretly recovered a plastic discarded item with her saliva on it, police sources said. The DNA extracted from the saliva matched the DNA evidence collected from a bite mark at the murder scene, authorities said. That DNA will be the center of the prosecution's case against Lazarus, authorities have said.

Prosecutors said they had no immediate comment on the motion.

-- Andrew Blankstein and Joel Rubin

Photo: Stephanie Lazarus appears in L.A. court in June. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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Comments () | Archives (27)

She had 23yrs to remove or have someone else remove the missing evidence. She was on the inside. Do they still have records over 23yrs of who went into the evidence room? If she logged in, was it for a legitimate reason?

give me a break. they have all the evidence that says she did it. now they say, through it out! She did throw her in the electric chair

This is such a joke! I wish we had laws that would instantly send corrupt cops like her to the gas chamber!

OMG. Look at her eyes! ooooh

so, the argument goes, if I'm able to conceal my crime well enough and for long enough, I walk? - if a 5 year old tried to pull that one I'd chuckle - but an alleged murderer? - not chuckling one bit!

Interesting concept. If she's guilty (which she is), it's really on her to have fessed up ... but if she's innocent, it's an interesting point. Oh, wait, no, except that she's fighting DNA evidence ... whose memory doesn't fade. Interesting in concept, though.

She has that "Ted Bundy possessed by the devil" look in her eyes.

She is evil. Pure evil. A Pure Evil Police Officer. Believe me when I write the Police are happy to have her in jail. And that is where she will stay for the rest of her existence. The police are not perfect investigators but they did not murder anyone like this piece of scum did.

Those beady eyes says it all...Guilty as charged...

I'd invest in a pair of sunglasses for trial or risk scaring all of the jury members...

Yes, let's toss out the DNA evidence because she evaded capture for 20+ years...NOT...

Her eyes say it all. No way is she innocent. Busted.

OOOOkay, that's a defense motion I've never heard before, not that I'm a lawyer or anything. Somehow, I'm not getting his logic. If they thought she was involved they should have told her so she could do what she's doing now, but because the didn't, now she can't because of flawed memories?????

Naw, I'm not buying it! And I think her lawyer needs to go into the cell next to her, just for wasting the courts time!

so when is the next hearing?

This is proof our legal system needs to be fixed. The rationale of her attorney appears to be that she should be let go not because she's innocent, but because they should have known she was guilty a long time ago!
The law shouldn't allow for that type of dismissal request to be considered for even a moment. What is this - the "I did it, but you didn't catch me soon enough" defense? Inexcusable.

What about the rights of the woman Stephanie Lazarus murdered in cold blood? and all over a man??? That woman abused her authority as a police officer and as far as I'm concerned she is evil! She should be punished to the full extent of the law.

so you guys would find her guilty because of the way she looks? Typical southern Californians, you make me sick. Regardless if she did it or not "The look in her eyes" days nothing, stop making something out of nothing.

Not the first to point it out but crikey - she's got what Tony Soprano called "Manson lamps."

Los Angeles' government is so corrupt & criminal; how can anyone actually decide to live there?

How come Nancy Grace is not all over this one, and where the Heck is Gloria Allred?

It's a silly argument by the defense but evidence of her predicament. The DNA evidence is pretty concrete and the circumstantial evidence (her gun was claimed "stolen", the confrontations, etc.) is very damning.

The idea that missing evidence (which won't be used at trial) should result in dismissal is a huge long-shot. Given her access to such evidence over the years, the motion to dismiss is all but worthless.

No, I would not convict her on her looks! That is why she should have a trial of her peers! I do however have problems with her lawyers "defense?" He's saying that she was denied due process because she wasn't arrested at the time the murder occurred, yet, as you can see, she didn't step forward and surrender herself so she could avail herself of that self-same due process! Now, I say she stands trial!

i love the person who says southern californians are unbelievable because we want to throw a woman in jail who we have dna evidence and a solid motive for murder....i say fry her and the blogger defending her eyes....something out of nothing? her lawyer is practically admitting she did it...at least in socal we dont defend cold blooded killers (who happen to be cops)...glad you arent on the jury Danny Mac...and you wish you could afford to live somewhere nice like socal...out!!!

She looks like one wacked lady!

There are time limits under which the D.A. can no longer file charges, they vary based upon the offense. Shorter time for minor crimes longer times for mor4e severe. They are called statutes of limitations, and what is the time limit on murder? The king of crimes, there is no limitation.

So is her attorney asking to overturn the statute of limitation for murder, good luck with that.

She's hot!

well, you committed a crimes, you paid your times. compare to the informant, he is cold blood murder two people, and cover up by the FBI or ATF agent. No one going to investigation of this matter: the agent cover up for that informant. I am not a detective, but I can find infor of that informant. I have Memorandum of that informant. no body going to do anything about that.Because, they are crooks. and got away for murder. I shall send that Memorandum to anybody want to ready about it and investigation of his crimes for the past two decade, and still committed a crimes, and than, he thinks he's immune by the FBI or ATF agent. the crimes of murder is have no statutes of limitations at all....

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