Former LAPD Detective, Lazarus, found guilty of 1986 Rasmussen murder

By Alex A. Alonso Staff Writer
March 8, 2012 | 5:52 p.m. PST

Rasmussen family attorney, John Taylor, addressing media after guilty verdict, March 8, 2012

Rasmussen family attorney, John Taylor, addressing media after guilty verdict, March 8, 2012

LOS ANGELES – On Thursday afternoon, in a standing room only court, former LAPD detective, Stephanie Lazarus was found guilty of the 1986 murder of Sherri Rasmussen. The sobs of Rasmussen’s mother and sister can be heard, as the Los Angeles Sherriff’s deputies escorted members of Lazarus’ family out the court room, immediately after the verdict was read.

District Attorney Steve Cooley sat with the LAPD detectives who had a section behind the prosecution table that grew from seating four people during the trial to 14 for today’s verdict. Also present to hear the verdict was Judge Lance Ito.

Jury deliberations started on Tuesday afternoon where they deliberated for less than two hours. The jury continued Wednesday and told the court shortly before noon on Thursday that they had reached a verdict. On Wednesday afternoon, the second day of deliberations (first full day), the jury asked the court to have trial transcripts read back to them, which was scheduled to occur Thursday morning at 9:00 a.m., and after the reading, the jury came to a verdict.

At 1:46 p.m. Judge Robert Perry asked the jury if they reached a verdict and in unison they said yes. The jury foreman handed the envelope to the bailiff who then passed it to Judge Perry. Perry reviewed the documents for a few seconds and then handed them to the clerk to read. The clerk read the guilty verdicts which also included the use of firearm allegation to be true.

The verdict comes 26-years after the murder of Rasmussen and her family has seen the wheels of justice in this case move at an extremely slow pace and at times not move at all. Between 1987 and 2002, the murder investigation into Rasmussen’s killer had stalled.

The original LAPD detectives, Lyle Mayor and Steven Hooks, concluded that Rasmussen was murdered during an interrupted robbery by two Hispanic men that Det. Mayor identified as being illegal aliens. Det. Mayor never testified during the trial, but retired Det. Hooks told the jury that even though he signed off on a report that concluded Rasmussen was killed during a botched robbery, he had always believed that a woman was responsible because of the bite mark.

Det. James Nuttall began looking at this case 17 years after the original detectives completed their investigation and started the 9-year journey that would culminate in the conviction of an LAPD detective. In 2003 cold case LAPD detective reopened the Rasmussen case and started to reexamine finger prints, blood evidence, but they knew progress was made when they extracted a DNA profile from a bite mark swab in January 2005. The finger print and blood analysis did not provide any new information but now began the work of finding a match to the DNA profile.

The LAPD had no idea who that profile belonged to, but after speaking with the family and Lazarus’ ex-boyfriend John Ruetten, in May 2009 the detectives began looking at Lazarus.

Ruetten married Rasmussen in 1985, and stopped dating or seeing Lazarus, and according to investigators, this was the motive; a woman scorn from a break-up.

By January 2006 Lazarus was promoted to the Art Theft detail of the Commercial Crimes Division, and was in the 10th year of her marriage to LAPD Det. Scott Young. She had adopted a baby girl and life seemed to be going well for the Lazarus-Young family.

In late May 2009 the LAPD secretly acquire Lazarus’ DNA from a discarded cup that she was drinking from at a Costco food court. The two profiles matched.

After an hour long interrogation of Lazarus in June 2009, she was arrested at Parker Center where she worked, and charged with the murder.

During the trial, the prosecution presented 53 witnesses over 13 days. The star witness of the trial was not any one person, but the DNA evidence itself, extracted from a bite left on Rasmussen’s left arm that occurred during her last struggle.

LAPD criminalist Jennifer Francis conducted the DNA analysis and then it was sent to a private lab, SIRE, for confirmation tests, and that’s what convicted Lazarus.

The DNA evidence did have some challenges, that defense attorney Mark Overland was able to expose, which included misplacement of the bite swab itself. For an unknown time period the tubes that stored the bite mark swab went missing, and Overland suggested that there may have been evidence tampering. Even more problematic was the envelope in which the tube was stored in. It was tattered with a gaping hole and not preserved according to the coroner’s office own protocols.

Could someone have tampered with the evidence or even worse, plant Lazarus’ DNA in the damaged envelop? Overland was hoping that the jury would accept that possibility, but Deputy District Attorney’s Paul Nunez and Shannon Presby would ask many of their witnesses if they had anything against, a grudge or harbored any hate towards Lazarus. You would never expect a police officer to admit any dislike towards another cop, and none of them did.

Ultimately the jury was able to remedy the poor handling of the DNA evidence and the substandard chain of custody that Overland exposed and rejected the notion that Lazarus’ DNA was planted by a person either inside the LAPD or the coroner’s office.

The Rasmussen family attorney, John Taylor, spoke to the media after the verdict and praised LAPD detectives Greg Stearns and Dan Jaramillo who were present during the trial every day working close with the prosecutors.

Taylor also expressed gratitude for the work that Cold Case Det. Nuttall did in opening this case in 2003 but he did confirm that a civil law suit will be filed against the City of Los Angeles and the LAPD, for the way that Det. Mayor investigated this case in 1986.

Defense attorney Overland, addressed the media at 1:20 p.m. and said, “this is just round one,” as he is expected to file an appeal regarding the suppression of evidence and the inadmissibility of the DNA evidence.

Lazarus is facing 27 years in prison when sentenced on May 4.
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 Mar 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.

6 Comments for “Former LAPD Detective, Lazarus, found guilty of 1986 Rasmussen murder”

  1. Reper

    I wonder if this woman ever murdered anyone else. I bet she did, and since she was a cop, was able to get away with it. All the cases she ever investigated are all tainted.

  2. John Taylor

    I think now its time to sue the LAPD for their incompetence they showed back in 1986. $20 million I think we’ll take from the LAPD.

  3. How.could a person be so in love or obsessed with another….to ki*l. It’s sad. Shechad issues. I’m sorry for both families. I bet those detectives feel pretty dumb right now. What do they have to say?

  4. stef

    i feel very sorry for both families. The woman who’s life was cut short bc of an ex girlfriend who obviously had mental issues. I can’t believe the police dept didn’t see anything strange or off with one of their own. Or, do they and they just brush it under the rug, leave it alone and hope these kind of cops just don’t do anything too crazy. Well, this one certainly did! Yet, i am sorry for her, Detective Lazarus because she leaves a young child behind. How is this child going to grow up, knowing her mom ki*led. Sad!

  5. Sean McKallen

    How crooked could you be to murder a chic over nothing, absolutely nothing, and how dumb was the LAPD back then to hire a person capable of this????????????

  6. […] LAPD detective that was convicted of murder last March was sentence Friday by Judge Robert Perry to 27 years to life. Stephanie Lazarus, 52, has been […]

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