Patrick Healy and Scott Spiro
Ex-LAPD detective Stephanie Lazarus was convicted on March 8, 2012 of first-degree murder for the 1986 killing of her ex-boyfriend's wife. Patrick Healy reports.
A veteran LAPD detective accused of killing the wife of her ex-lover in a jealous rage 26 years ago was found guilty on Thursday.
Stephanie Ilene Lazarus, 51, sat impassively as the verdict was read in a Los Angeles courtroom.
The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated just under two days before finding Lazarus guilty of the first-degree murder of Sherri Rasmussen, a hospital nursing director who was 29 when she was killed.
The jury also found true the gun use allegation.
“The family of Sherri Rasmussen never gave up their quest for justice for their daughter," said District Attorney Steve Cooley said during a brief news conference. "Thanks to the excellent and diligent team work of LAPD’s investigators and our prosecutors, Shannon Presby, Paul Nunez and Rosa Alarcon, justice was served today."
Tyler Izen, the president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents the rank-and-file cops, thanked the jury.
“We appreciate the jury’s service and hope that Sherri Rasmussen’s family can find closure in knowing that Stephanie Lazarus will face justice for Ms. Rasmussen’s murder," said Izen, in a statement. "Lazarus’ crimes are deeply disturbing, but it is important to remind the public that the actions of one individual should not tarnish its trust and respect for the more than 9,900 dedicated police officers who serve and protect the community every day.”
Lazarus was motivated by jealousy after learning a man she dated, John Ruetten, decided to marry Rasmussen, prosecutors argued. Ruetten testified he casually dated Lazarus after college, but he never considered her his girlfriend and continued to date other women while he was seeing her.
Ruetten discovered Rasmussen’s beaten and shot body on Feb. 24, 1986 inside the condo they shared. Rasmussen had married Ruetten just a few months before her body was found.
Prosecutors said the bullet used in the crime came from an LAPD issued .38 caliber revolver with a two-inch barrel, the same one Lazarus bought from the Police Academy just before she became a cop.
But it was DNA evidence on which prosecutors based most of their case. Prosecutors said they connected Lazarus to the crime through a saliva sample taken from a bite on Rasmussen’s shoulder.
Lazarus’ defense attorney Mark Overland suggested the evidence was tainted because the bag holding it was torn after being in storage for 20 years.
In June 2009, Lazarus was arrested and allowed to retire. She has remained in custody since in lieu of $10 million bail.
During the videotaped police interrogation, Lazarus said, "You're accusing me of this? Is that what you're saying? I can't believe this."
Lazarus wasn’t initially considered a suspect because detectives at first believed Rasmussen was the victim of two male burglars.
Rasmussen's father maintained that Lazarus should have been suspected from the start because he had been told that his son-in-law had been in a relationship with a cop who had threatened his daughter.
She faces 27 years to life in prison when she returns May 4 for sentencing by Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry.