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DNA in bite wound ties former LAPD detective to murder victim, prosecutors say

December 9, 2009 |  7:47 pm
The odds that DNA found in the wound of a murder victim belonged to anyone other than LAPD Det. Stephanie Lazarus are one in 400 quadrillion, a police forensics specialist testified Wednesday.

LAPD criminalist Jennifer Butterworth told a judge that she analyzed the swab taken from a bite mark on the left forearm of Sherrie Rae Rasmussen and found it belonged to a woman, despite the theory by original detectives on the case that two men beat and shot the victim Feb. 24, 1986.

After reopening the case, which included re-interviewing Rasmussen’s husband, police detectives identified Lazarus as a suspect and secretly obtained a DNA sample from her. That led to what Butterworth described as a match with the genetic sample from the bite mark.

The testimony came on the third day of the preliminary hearing in the murder case that also included LAPD Det. James Nuttall, who testified about reopening the case. Nuttall said he was given Lazarus’ name during an interview with the victim’s husband, John Ruetten.

Ruetten described his relationship with Lazarus as a friendship that became “fully intimate,” Nuttall said. Ruetten later married the victim, a hospital nursing director. On cross-examination by defense attorney Mark Overland, Nuttall said Ruetten also told him that he went to Lazarus’ home while engaged to Rasmussen and had sex with Lazarus, then an LAPD officer.

It was not immediately clear who would gain an advantage from the revelations and how they may play out if the case goes on to trial.

The defense has concentrated most of its efforts on raising doubt over whether the saliva and other evidence were properly secured and stored over the years.

-- Andrew Blankstein and Joel Rubin