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Stephanie Lazarus: '26-year nightmare' over, victim's family says

March 8, 2012 |  3:35 pm

Nels and Loretta Rasmussen

The family of a 29-year-old nursing director fatally shot by ex-LAPD Det. Stephanie Lazarus said they are relieved that their "26-year nightmare" has concluded.

A jury Thursday found Lazarus guilty of first-degree murder, bringing an end to a remarkable case in which a new generation of the Los Angeles Police Department redeemed the failures of a past one.

At the time of the 1986 killing, detectives were convinced Sherri Rasmussen had been killed by two men trying to burglarize her home, and police ignored pleas from her father to look into whether a woman he knew only as his son-in-law's "ex-girlfriend, who is an LAPD officer" could have killed his daughter.

VIDEOS: 2009 interrogation of Stephanie Lazarus

In 2009, police re-opened the investigation after the department's crime lab had conducted DNA testing -- which didn't exist at the time of the killing -- and concluded that saliva from a bite mark had come from a woman. The new investigation quickly led them to Lazarus, who was arrested in 2010.

"The family is relieved that this 26-year nightmare was concluded with a positive identification of who killed their daughter and sister," said the Rasmussen family's attorney, John Taylor.

After the verdict, he said the evidence in the case was overwhelming.

FULL COVERAGE: Trial of Stephanie Lazarus

"She fit the only possible profile of the person who committed this murder, even without the DNA," Taylor said. "The evidence was overwhelming."

He declined to discuss LAPD's earlier failure to investigate Lazarus, saying, "We're not here to talk about that today."

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck issued a rare apology to the Rasmussen family.

"To the family of Sherri Rasmussen, I am truly sorry for the loss of your wife, of your daughter," Beck said in a statement. "I am also sorry it took us so long to solve this case and bring a measure of justice to this tragedy. We recognize that no verdict by a court can bring Sherri back, nor assuage the grief your family suffered over the past decades."

Lazarus had worked for the LAPD for more than 25 years; she retired while in jail awaiting trial. The jury convicted her after deliberating for less than two days.


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Photo: Nels and Loretta Rasmussen, the parents of Sherri Rasmussen, with other family members, stand behind their lawyer as he speaks to the media after the guilty verdict against former LAPD Det. Stephanie Lazarus in the 1986 death of their daughter. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times