Bite mark and gun shot wounds explained in Lazarus murder trial

Sherri Rasmussen with husband John Ruetten

Sherri Rasmussen with husband John Ruetten

By Alex A. Alonso Staff Writer
February 8, 2012 | 11:51 p.m. PST
updated February 10, 2012 | 1:11 a.m.

LOS ANGELES — The prosecution in the Stephanie Lazarus murder trial started to introduce the forensic evidence that led to the 2009 arrest of the former LAPD detective. Through DNA collected from what has been characterized as a bite mark on Sherri Rasmussen’s left arm in 1986, they were able to link it to Lazarus.

We learned through the preliminary hearing testimony of Lloyd Mahaney in December 2009 that the bite mark on Rasmussen’s left arm was swabbed by two 6-inch cotton swabs and preserved in a vile then placed in a freezer where it remained for two decades at the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office. The jury was told by Judge Robert Perry that Mahaney was not available to testify because he had past, so the transcript from the 2009 preliminary hearing was read to the jury by Deputy District Attorney Paul Nuñez.

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Mahaney was senior criminalist who retired in 2007, and had six years of experience processing over 200 cases in 1986. He was responsible for processing the body of Rasmussen into evidence where he gathered sexual assault evidence, robe fibers, hair fibers and swabbed various areas of Rasmussen’s body including her mouth, rectum, genitals, and nipples, but the swab of the bite mark will become the central focus of this trial.

Carlos Celaya, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy who was a forensics photographer for the coroner’s office in 1986 was called by Nunez. Celaya was responsible for taking the photos of Rasmussen’s body before the autopsy, and he told the jury that he photographed the bruise on her left arm that is being described as the bite mark.

At this point of the trial, there is no evidence that this mark is an actual bite mark, but it was labeled as such in 1986, and it is being characterized as such today. Later in the day when coroner Dr. Susan Selser was cross examined by Mark Overland, she stated that the bruise mark was consistent with a bite mark but could not say for certain that it was a bite mark.

There was no evidence that Rasmussen was sexually assaulted or raped when she was killed in 1986.

The injuries

When prosecutor Nuñez called Dr. Selser, the jury heard the extent of all the injuries that Rasmussen sustained at the hands of her killer. The cause of death was multiple gun shots wounds to the torso, but before she was shot, she suffered several lacerations, abrasions and contusions, according to the coroner.

Rasmussen suffered the following injuries to her hands:

1. Sharp cut on left palm
2. 1/8 inch abrasion on right pinky finger
3. ½ inch abrasion to right hand
4. ½ inch cut on right palm
5. ½ inch cut on top of ring finger on right hand
6. ¼ inch abrasion on top left thumb
7. 1 inch incision cut on finger of left hand
8. ¼ inch incision cut on ring finger right hand
9. ½ inch scratch on pinky finger of right hand

Rasmussen also suffered several injuries to her face, mostly on her right side. The coroner had approximately 15 facial injuries noted on the autopsy report. Prosecutor Nunez briefly showed a photograph of Rasmussen’s battered face which the family, sitting in the second row of the court room, had a subtle but agonizing reaction to them. The injuries included:

1. laceration to inside of mouth
2. ¼ inch cut over right eye brow
3. ¼ inch abrasion below eyebrow
4. ¼ inch abrasion on face
5. ½ inch abrasion on face
6. two ¼ inch lacerations below right eye
7. ¼ inch laceration on right cheek
8. ¾ inch abrasion on upper right cheek next to nose
9. ¼ inch abrasion to left center of cheek
10. ¼ inch abrasion right side of nose
11. two ¼ inch scratches to right corner of mouth
12. 1/8 inch abrasion on right side of chin
13. 1/8 inch abrasion on left side of chin

There were also injuries sustained to Rasmussen’s head.

1. ¼ inch abrasion and contusion to left side of head
2. ½ inch laceration to left side of head
3. ½ inch abrasion and contusion to left side of head

There were approximately 50 injuries on the body of Rasmussen, but Dr. Selsar was not able to determine the extent of damage of any of the blunt force trauma injuries and none of them were fatal because the cause of death was the three gunshots to the torso.

The shooting

Rasmussen’s killer shot her three times after the physical assault and although Dr. Selser labeled the gun shots wounds numerically, she was not suggesting the order in which Rasmussen sustained each wound. Gunshot wound number one entered Rasmussen’s chest right in the center and penetrated the right main bronchus, which is attached to the trachea and serves the right lung. This wound was a through and through that exited the back and was rapidly fatal.

Gunshot wound number two entered the right upper chest above the nipple. The bullet penetrated the thoracic spine, thoracic aorta, and spinal cord. This wound was also rapidly fatal and would have caused severe internal bleeding from the thoracic aorta that contains a large supply of the body’s blood.

Gunshot wound three was a through and though that entered the left side of the chest and penetrated the heart and left lung. The wound was rapidly disabling and fatal. Any one of these gunshot wounds, that came from a 9mm semiautomatic weapon, would have killed Rasmussen independently.

The coroner was the last witness of the day and testimony will resume on Thursday morning.

The following also testified on Wednesday:
Jane Rodriguez, LAPD document examiner
Richard James Heath, Los Angeles County Coroner

Alex Alonso is an author, film maker and founder of He is also a contributing author in the 2010 book entitled Black Los Angeles: American Dreams Racial Realities (New York University Press). He can be reached via email, toll free at 800-249-1324 or on Twitter.

Posted by on Feb 8 2012. Filed under Features, People of CA v. Stephanie Lazarus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

4 Comments for “Bite mark and gun shot wounds explained in Lazarus murder trial”

  1. stef

    FINALLY……a face to the victim. Sherri Rasmussen looks so happy here, in this picture. Stephanie Lazarus was a sore loser. Obviously….the police dept had someone sick in their midst and they didn’t even know it…..or did they. Well, that’s if she did do it. Any reports of her seeing a psychiatrist or at anytime during her career or was she ever investigated? It’s kinda like the LAUSD, bad people in their midst but how could you know? Aren’t there annual psych evaluations going on within the department?

  2. […] Jane Rodriguez, a document examiner for the Los Angeles Police Department testified in the Stephanie Lazarus murder trial. She told the jury that she examined the tattered envelope that the bite swab tube […]

  3. […] when the coroner’s office received a priority request from the LAPD on December 20, 2004 for the bite swabs, the coroner’s office could not find the evidence. The bite swabs were eventually found two days […]

  4. Raizo

    First, you didn’t have to take away what dignity the poor girl has considering her family might read this later. Your pig self just had to mention her privates in a perverted fashion; breast I’m sure is as graphic as it gets. Nipple insights a closer relationship of your psychology than a injury to a women’s breast. Second, it was the left breast that received the injury; paying attention to the autopsy report could be just as important as writing about it later, don’t you think? If you’re going to botch up your game, you might as well go for the grand slam, am I right? Good job, perv.

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