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LAPD detective charged with capital murder

June 8, 2009 |  4:40 pm

Prosecutors today charged an LAPD detective with premeditated murder in connection with the fatal shooting two decades ago of her ex-boyfriend's wife.

Stephanie Lazarus, 49, could potentially face the death penalty because prosecutors alleged a special circumstance in the case: that she killed Sherri Rae Rasmussen, who was badly beaten and shot multiple times in her Van Nuys condominium on the evening of Feb. 24, 1986, during a burglary.

A decision by prosecutors to seek the death penalty would be made at a later date, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney's office.

The original homicide detectives assigned to the case did not focus on Lazarus, who was then a patrol officer who had been with the department more than two years. Instead, they pursued the theory that two men who had robbed another woman in the area at gunpoint had killed Rasmussen when she came upon them burglarizing her home, according to news reports from the time.

But detectives revisited the case in February, testing blood or saliva samples from the crime scene thought to have been from the killer. DNA tests showed that the attacker was a woman, disproving the theory that Rasmussen's killer was a man.

In a check of the case file, there was a reference to Lazarus, who had once dated the victim's husband, John Ruetten. Ruetten reportedly broke off the relationship and soon after became involved with Rasmussen, said sources familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Police sources said that Lazarus' DNA was recovered from discarded items by an undercover officer who had surreptitiously trailed her. The DNA in her saliva was compared with the DNA evidence collected from the crime scene. The genetic code in the samples matched conclusively, police said.

Lazarus, who is expected to be arraigned Tuesday, was last assigned to the LAPD's art theft detail.

--Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein

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