DNA of former LAPD detective Lazarus matches evidence at 1986 homicide scene

By Alex A. Alonso
Streetgangs.com Staff Writer
February 10, 2012 | 10:59 p.m. PST

Sherri Rasmussen

Sherri Rasmussen

LOS ANGELES — Friday marked the fifth day of testimony in the trial of Stephanie Lazarus, 51, the former LAPD officer accused of the brutal 1986 murder of Sherri Rasmussen. The sexual assault allegations out of Miramonte Elementary School have certainly taken the spot light away from one of the most controversial and high profile trials in sometime, but the court room was full of spectators as DNA criminalist, Jennifer Francis, testified about the crucial evidence that ultimately led to the arrest of Lazarus in 2009.

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Francis was on the stand for the entire afternoon on Thursday, and spent the entire morning under direct examination Friday. She testified about the scientific details of DNA testing, and how she constructed a DNA profile for several pieces of evidence collected at the crime scene that included blood swabs, a finger nail, and hair particles. She also tested the bite swab taken from Rasmussen’s arm. These tests began on December 2, 2004 and a report generated with the results of these tests was completed on February 8, 2005. In the report, Francis concluded that all the items tested were a match to Rasmussen except for the bite mark, which belonged to an unidentified female.

Eventually the LAPD decided to look closer at Lazarus as a possible suspect, 23 years after Nels Rasmussen, the victim’s father, initially shared his suspicions with the police regarding Lazarus.

LAPD detectives Roberto Morales and Dante Palacio, from the Professional Standards Bureau began surveilling Lazarus in late May 2009 and surreptitiously acquired a sample of her saliva on a beverage cup on May 28th. That evidence was delivered to the LAPD crime analysis lab for Francis to conduct further DNA tests, and on June 6, 2009 she generated a report that concluded Lazarus was a match to the bite mark that was swabbed in 1986, based on the fluid sample extracted from the cup Lazarus drank from.

Deputy District Attorney Paul Nuñez asked Francis the chances that the DNA from the bite swab was not a match to Lazarus’ DNA, and she replied that it was one in 402 quadrillion, which would amount to enough people to populate 100 million Earths based on current global population numbers. This is certainly the strongest evidence presented thus far, and it is the first physical evidence presented that puts Lazarus at the scene of the crime at the same time. Dr. Susan Selsar told the jury on Wednesday that the bite mark on Rasmussen’s arm occurred at approximately the same time she was killed. Lazarus would have been 25-years old when the murder occurred and only with the LAPD for about 2-years.

On cross examination, defense attorney Mark Overland laboriously went over the many details associated with DNA testing, asking scientific questions about chromosomes, alleles, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), amplification, base pairs and hypothetical DNA scenarios. Overland’s DNA questions are at times confusing and frustrating to Francis, who is not able to answer them all. Overland is challenging the testing methods, the software used, and the assumptions made in the DNA testing process, but he does not appear to be creating any doubt regarding the actual DNA testing. Overland was more effective on Wednesday showing the shoddy practices of the coroner’s office regarding the handling of evidence.

The most revealing information that was learned during Overland’s cross examination of Francis had nothing to do with DNA but the time it took to get the bite mark swab from the coroner’s office to the LAPD lab for analysis. Overland presented email messages between Francis and LAPD Cold Case Detective Cliff Shepard originating on October 21, 2004 when the evidence was first requested. On November 1, 2004 Francis sent another email to Shepard to find out the status of the bite swabs, but it was not until December 30, 2004 they were sent to the lab.

Francis is scheduled to continue her testimony under cross examination on Tuesday morning. The trial is not in session on Monday.

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Alex Alonso is an author, film maker and founder of Streetgangs.com. 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 10 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.

6 Comments for “DNA of former LAPD detective Lazarus matches evidence at 1986 homicide scene”

  1. Reper

    The DNA means that she had contact with her, but does anyone really believe that a police officer would murder a woman over an ex-boyfriend?

  2. flaco comer

    If there is saliva on a dead person who was found shot within 6-12 hours…what are the odds that she was bittin by the crazy cop lady and then never washed or showered and then was shot by someone else? One in 4 quadrillion I would say…

    • Problem

      It is possible that Lazarus went to Sherri Rasmussen’s house to tell her to leave her husband alone, then they argued and fought and sh*% bit her then left. Then after that some other people came to burglarize her place and ki*led her. It is a possibility, even the original detective thought that.

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