Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Bail is set at $10 million for LAPD detective accused of murder

December 18, 2009 | 10:44 am

The judge in the Stephanie Lazarus trial today set a $10-million bail for the LAPD detective accused of murder, saying he believed it was a “near certainty” she would flee if granted a lower amount.

Lazarus, a 26-year veteran of the LAPD, is accused of bludgeoning and then shooting to death the wife of a man she had dated.  She was arrested earlier this year after cold case detectives reexamined the murder and linked Lazarus to the killing through saliva found in a bite mark on the victim.

The unusually high amount, which Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry compounded, Lazarus' attorney said, by requiring it to be presented in cash, sent a wave of gasps through the courtroom.  Lazarus showed a rare sign of emotion as her head fell in disappointment. 

Her attorney, Mark Overland, said his client had no way to amass the money – meaning she will remain in detention until her trial, which is not likely to open for several months.

As they have throughout the trial proceedings, the parents of the victim, Sherri Rae Rasmussen, sat stoically in the courtroom. 

The amount was double what prosecutors had requested and far greater than the $300,000 to $500,000 Overland had sought.

In leading up to his decision, Perry summarized the reasoning behind his decision. Calling it “an admittedly unusual case,” he said prosecutors had  presented “compelling evidence” at a preliminary hearing that spoke to Lazarus’ “motive, means, opportunity and identity.” 

He acknowledged that Lazarus, if freed on bail, would have access to weapons through her husband, who is also an LAPD detective, and could be a risk to herself and others.  The most pressing issue for Perry, however, was the “strong incentive,” he concluded, that Lazarus has to flee and the likelihood she would in fact do so.

The usually even-keeled Overland reacted with dismay afterward, saying he interpreted Perry’s decision as a de facto denial of bail and plans to appeal the amount.

“It’s ridiculous.  Phil Spector gets $1 million bail? Robert Blake get’s $1 million bail?  They’ve got the money to go anywhere,” he said, referring to the celebrity music producer and actor recently tried on murder charges.  “Who has $10 million cash?  It is basically preventative detention.”

Perry “does not know the case,” Overland said, reacting to the judge’s forceful comments about Lazarus and the evidence against her.  “He’s only seen bits of it.”

Sherri Rae Rasmussen, 29, was killed in her Van Nuys condominium Feb. 24, 1986. The original investigators on the case were convinced that Rasmussen had been killed by a pair of men who were burglarizing the home.  Detectives concluded that was wrong when they reopened the case early this year and DNA tests on the saliva showed that it belonged to a woman.

They retraced the investigation, once again interviewing Rasmussen's parents and her husband, John Ruetten.  As they had at the time of the killing, the family and Ruetten told investigators about Lazarus, whom Ruetten had dated for several years before meeting Rasmussen.

An undercover officer surreptitiously trailed Lazarus, 49, as she ran errands, waiting until she discarded a plastic utensil or other object with her saliva on it. The DNA in her saliva was compared with evidence collected from the murder scene. The genetic code in the samples matched conclusively, police and prosecutors have said.

John Taylor, an attorney representing Rasmussen’s parents, said it has been “extremely hard” for the couple and their other children to revisit the death of their daughter in court and said the family “would like to proceed as quickly as possible to trail.” 

If convicted, Lazarus would face up to life in prison.

-- Joel Rubin at Los Angeles County Superior Court

Photo: L.A. Times