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

Det. Stephanie Lazarus faces a 27 years to life sentence
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.

FULL COVERAGE: Trial of Stephanie Lazarus

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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-- Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein

Left photo: Sherri Rasmussen. Credit: Rasmussen family

Right photo: Stephanie Lazarus. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

 
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