Ex-LAPD Det. Stephanie Lazarus gets 27 years to life for murder
Former Los Angeles Police Det. Stephanie Lazarus was sentenced Friday to 27 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole for killing her ex-boyfriend's wife nearly three decades ago in a fit of rage and jealousy.
Prosecutors said in a "statement of views" filed in court that "Lazarus misused her police training in the most profound way imaginable by utilizing that training and experience to commit murder and to cover up her crime. Lazarus betrayed the trust placed in her by the Los Angeles Police Department and by people of Los Angeles in order to pursue her own murderous ends."
"Lazarus' profound narcissism led her to kill and continues to motivate her denial of responsibility."
Lazarus was convicted in March of first-degree murder in the death of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, who was shot three times in the chest in her Van Nuys home on Feb. 24, 1986. Several months before the attack, Rasmussen, a 29-year-old hospital nursing director, had married John Ruetten, who had also dated Lazarus casually for a few years before the wedding.
Los Angeles County prosecutors had asked Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry to sentence Lazarus to at least 27 years behind bars before she is eligible for parole.
The sentence came after emotionally charged statements from the friends and family of Rasmussen.
Instead, investigators stuck to their early theory that Rasmussen must have been killed by unidentified Latino male suspects during a botched burglary. That theory eventually would be proven wrong by DNA in a saliva sample gathered from a bite mark on the victim’s left forearm.
But it would take a generation, a revolution in forensics technology and a second LAPD investigation before Lazarus, who had become a respected art theft detective, officially emerged as the prime suspect in the case.
Rasmussen family attorney John C. Taylor, who praised the work of current LAPD detectives, said in March that the family would address the handling of the original police investigation.
The case against Lazarus came down to "a bite, a bullet, a gun barrel and a broken heart,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Shannon Presby said in his opening statement. Presby and co-counsel Paul Nunez sought to hammer home those points throughout the five-week trial, in which more than 60 witnesses testified and 400 exhibits were presented from the state and the defense.
Defense attorney Mark Overland countered by repeatedly questioning the integrity of the DNA bite mark evidence -- arguing that the vial it was stored in was not properly sealed and the envelope containing the sample was ripped.
He also noted that a blood smear from an unidentified male was analyzed for DNA and did not match either the blood of Lazarus or Rasmussen, suggesting the possibility of another suspect. During cross-examination, Overland tried to show his client was not the obsessed, jilted lover portrayed by prosecutors.
In fact, Overland said, her former boyfriend Ruetten continued to pursue Lazarus after becoming engaged.
In the end, the DNA evidence proved too difficult to overcome. After little more than a day of deliberation, the panel of eight women and four men found Lazarus guilty.
-- Andrew Blankstein at L.A. County Superior Court
Photo: Stephanie Lazarus, a former Los Angeles police detective, was sentenced to 27 years to life in state prison for the murder her ex-boyfriend's wife more than 26 years ago. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times