The case of a 23-year LAPD veteran accused in the 1986 shooting death of a romantic rival has gone to jurors after a trial that included detailed testimony from the man with whom prosecutors claim the ex-detective was obsessed.
The jury received the case shortly after 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and broke for the day just before 4 p.m. Jurors are expected to return at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Stephanie Lazarus, allegedly motivated by jealousy after learning a man she dated decided to marry another woman, beat, shot and killed 29-year-old Sherri Rasmussen in 1986. Rasmussen had married John Ruetten -- a man Lazarus met in college and dated -- just a few months before her body was found in the couple's Van Nuys condominium.
Authorities initially believed the slaying was connected to a series of break-ins, but it was a bite mark on Rasmussen's shoulder that led authorities to Lazarus more than 20 years later.
She thought she committed the perfect murder," prosecutor Paul Nunez said Monday during the first day of closing arguments.
The case went cold until 2004 when a coroner asked to re-test DNA from the bite mark. During testimony Feb. 10, a criminalist testified that a DNA sample was collected from Lazarus in 2009.
The genetic markers found in the oral swab DNA and the bite mark would be expected to be found in one in 402 quadrillion people, according to the criminalist's testimony. Another DNA sample was collected from a cup that Lazarus -- an art forgeries specialist during her time with the LAPD -- discarded outside a Costco store.
But the defense argued that the DNA samples should exonerate Lazarus because they were corrupted over the last six years. Attorney Mark Overland also dismissed the prosecution's claim that a romantic rivalry motivated Lazarus, noting that she did not attempt to renew her relationship with Ruetten, who testified during the trial.
"So this obsessing with John must have fizzled out I guess,'' Overland said, adding that Lazarus went on to marry another police officer and adopt a daughter.
The DNA samples and investigation led to an LAPD interrogation room interview involving detectives and Lazarus in June 2009. At first, the meeting seemed informal and conversational. Detectives told Lazarus they wanted to speak with her because her name had been mentioned in connection with Ruetten, the husband of the victim in a murder case they were investigating.
It was after detectives asked Lazarus about the nature of her relationship with Ruetten that the tone changed.
"You're accusing me of this? Is that what you're saying?" Lazarus said. "I can't believe this."
Excerpts from the interview -- Lazarus was taken into custody as she left the room -- were played for jurors.