Victim's Father Says He Urged LAPD to Investigate Officer

Would face death penalty if convicted

A veteran Los Angeles police detective was brought to court Tuesday in an orange jail jumpsuit to face a capital murder charge alleging she killed an ex-boyfriend's wife 23 years ago when she was a young officer.

Detective Stephanie Lazarus calmly answered "yes" when Superior Court Commissioner Kristi Lousteau asked if she agreed to have her arraignment continued to July 6. Lazarus was charged Monday with capital murder in the death of Sherri Rasmussen at the victim's Van Nuys condominium.

Lazarus was identified as a suspect through a DNA match of saliva taken from bite marks on Rasmussen's body, Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said Monday.

"There was a significant struggle that preceded the homicide," he said.

Lazarus' husband, Scott Young, a detective in the San Fernando Valley, knew nothing about the slaying, Beck said.

"None of us blames him. I don't know if he's been interviewed yet, but he will be, as will a lot of people," he said.

Police officials have said Lazarus was not a suspect in 1986 because detectives believed that two robbers who had attacked another woman in the same neighborhood were to blame. The case file did mention Lazarus because she had previously dated the victim's husband, John Ruetten.

Attorneys for Rasmussen's father and mother told a press conference outside court that the parents want answers to why it took so long for police to pursue Lazarus as a suspect. Attorney John Taylor said the parents told the original investigators in the case that their daughter had a problem with Lazarus, who had appeared at Rasmussen's condominium in a police officer's uniform and threatened her.

Nels Rasmussen said he made the pleas in a letter to then-Chief Daryl F. Gates and during police interviews.

Taylor said the parents unsuccessfully pressed police at the time to look at Lazarus but were told investigators were pursuing the robbery angle.

Beck said investigators would conduct interviews with several sources: Ruetten in San Diego, detectives who first investigated the case and now live in Idaho, and Lazarus' family in Arizona.

The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of a burglary. Lazarus also faces a separate allegation of personal use of a handgun.

Prosecutors are expected to decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Lazarus, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department's Art Theft Unit.

She was arrested Friday at the department's downtown headquarters, and is jailed without bail.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us