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Jury to decide whether LAPD detective killed romantic rival

March 7, 2012 |  8:47 am

 The jury in the murder trial of former Los Angeles police Det. Stephanie Lazarus will continue deliberations Wednesday morning in the 1986 beating and shooting death of her romantic rival.

Lazarus is accused of killing Sherri Rasmussen, who was married to a man Lazarus had dated. Prosecutors have argued throughout the monthlong trial that Lazarus, who was 26 at the time of the killing and had joined the LAPD a few years earlier, was deeply in love with the man and driven to kill by the jealousy she felt over his decision to marry someone else.

Detectives initially investigated the killing under the theory that Rasmussen was killed by burglars, ignoring pleas from her family that they consider Lazarus as a suspect. In 2009, detectives reopened the case and evidence led them to Rasmussen.

The panel of eight women and four men began their deliberations mid-afternoon, after Lazarus' attorney, Mark Overland, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Shannon Presby finished their closing arguments.

Throughout his case, Overland tried to cast doubt on the prosecution's most damning piece of evidence: a sample of saliva taken from a bite mark on Rasmussen's arm that DNA tests showed came from Lazarus. Overland has tried to convince jurors to disregard the saliva because of what he said were questions about how the cotton swab containing it was stored over the two decades and the possibility that someone may have tampered with it. He also focused on the fact that traces of DNA that did not belong to Lazarus were found beneath Rasmussen's fingernails.

Presby called Overland's argument "a desperate attempt to fool you." He said Lazarus was the only one with a clear motive to hurt Rasmussen. He also reviewed at length testimony about a small revolver Lazarus owned that matched the type used to kill Rasmussen and that Lazarus reported stolen shortly after the killing.

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-- Joel Rubin

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