Stephanie Lazarus emotionless as guilty verdict was read
Former LAPD detective Stephanie Lazarus showed no emotion Thursday afternoon as the jury's verdict was announced -- guilty of first-degree murder in the 1986 cold case slaying of her ex-boyfriend's wife.
She stood in the courtroom, her hands clasped in front of her. Her mother was escorted immediately out of the courtroom by friends and family.
Lazarus will be sentenced on May 4.
Relatives of her victim, Sherri Rasmussen, cried quietly. Rasmussen was shot three times in the chest on Feb. 24, 1986. Three months before the attack, the 29-year-old hospital nursing director had married John Ruetten, who dated Lazarus casually for a few years leading up to the wedding.
It is the first time in memory that an active-duty LAPD officer was arrested on a murder charge and later convicted.
In a statement after the verdict, LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck called it a "tragedy on every level."
"Not only did the family of Sherri Rasmussen lose a wife and a daughter, a life that can never be returned, but also the LAPD family felt a sense of betrayal to have an officer commit such a terrible crime," Beck said.
Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, thanked the jury and said he hopes the Rasmussen family can now find closure.
"Lazarus’ crimes are deeply disturbing, but it is important to remind the public that the actions of one individual should not tarnish its trust and respect for the more than 9,900 dedicated police officers who serve and protect the community every day," he said in a statement.
Prosecutors argued persuasively during the monthlong trial that Lazarus secretly harbored far deeper feelings for Ruetten and was driven to kill by the jealousy she felt over his decision to marry someone else.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Shannon Presby drove home the idea in his closing argument with a familiar line from poet William Congreve: "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."
Mark Overland, Lazarus' hired attorney, tried to undermine the credibility of how DNA evidence had been handled and stored over the years. He failed, however, to give jurors an alternate, viable theory of how else the killing may have unfolded and how such a complicated frame-job could have been pulled off.
-- Andrew Blankstein and Joel Rubin
Photo: Former LAPD Det. Stephanie Lazarus, center, was found guilty of murder. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times