Cop Accused of 1986 Murder Due in Court

Prosecutors on Monday began presenting evidence against a veteran Los Angeles police detective accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend's wife more than two decades ago.

Stephanie Lazarus, 49, has pleaded not guilty to murder in the February 1986 shooting death of Sherri Rasmussen, a hospital nursing director, at the victim's condominium in Van Nuys.

The first witness called by prosecutors was retired Los Angeles County coroner's criminal specialist Lloyd Mahanay, who testified he took a swab from a bite mark found on Rasmussen's left arm.

Authorities have said Lazarus was tied to Rasmussen's killing by a DNA match of saliva taken from the bite mark. Mahanay had trouble recalling what transpired 23 years ago but did remember taking evidence at Rasmussen's condo.

Rasmussen's body was found by her husband of three months, John Ruetten. Before he married Rasmussen, Ruetten and Lazarus had been involved, authorities said.

Lazarus was not a suspect in 1986 because detectives believed two robbers who had attacked another woman in the area were to blame. The case file, however, did mention Lazarus because of her relationship with Ruetten.

Lazarus, dressed in an orange, prison-issued jumpsuit, wore her chestnut brown hair in a French braid and jotted down notes during the hearing with the aid of glasses. Rasmussen's father also was in court.


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Earlier, Superior Court Judge Robert Perry denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Lazarus. He said her rights to a fair trial were not violated.

Her defense attorney, Mark Overland, had argued in court documents that LAPD investigators were negligent and showed carelessness in the probe of their colleague.

"I don't think, based on these papers, there was reckless disregard of Ms. Lazarus's due process of rights," Perry said.

Lazarus, who has been in custody since her June arrest, was an expert in cases involving art forgeries and married a fellow officer who knew nothing about the killing, police said.

She was arrested by detectives who worked across the hall from her.

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 have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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