Widower testifies about finding dead wife after murder

By Alex A. Alonso
Streetgangs.com Staff Writer
February 15, 2012 | 12:34 p.m. PST

John Ruetten

John Ruetten

LOS ANGELES — A packed courtroom showed up to hear testimony of the widower, once married to Sherri Rasmussen on Wednesday morning. Rasmussen was murdered in 1986 and Ruetten’s ex-girfriend, Stephanie Lazarus, has been charged with her murder. Ruetten has remained relatively silent since the 1986 murder of his wife, so the mystery surrounding what he was going to testify to has garnered significant attention.

Ruetten described that tragic day of February 24, 1986 as an ordinary day where he left the condominium that he shared with his wife and went to work at Micropolis, a disk drive manufacturer. Rasmussen, stayed home from her job as a nurse because she was ill. Ruetten returned home at about 6:00 to find his wife dead in the living room.


Ruetten emotionally described the gruesome scene and stated after he walked into the condominium he noticed his wife’s body laying on the floor with her face turned away. Her car was missing, there was glass on the ground and the door was left ajar. He walked over to the body and while holding back tears, he told the jury “I could tell by her eyes that she was gone.” He stated that he was in shock and one cannot describe the feeling. He went from a newlywed to a widower in just three months.

Detective Lyle Mayer of the LAPD was the lead investigator and Ruetten recalled being interview by Mayer on that day and subsequent days. Within three weeks Det. Mayer told Ruetten that he believed Rasmussen was murdered by two men who were in the middle of robbing the place. The thieves were surprised with her presence and after a struggle with Rasmussen killed her. Det. Mayer further told Ruetten that Lazarus was not involved in the murder. Both these assumptions turned out to be incorrect.

Ruetten was extremely distraught after the homicide, and never returned to the condo to live. He immediately moved to Northern California to live with sister for a short time, returned to Los Angeles for the funeral, and then moved south to San Diego where he stayed for about five years (1986 – 1991).

Under direct examination Ruetten talked about his relationship with Lazarus which started in 1981 when they were in college. Although Ruetten never characterized Lazarus as a girlfriend, Ruetten said that he had sex with Lazarus 20 to 25 times from 1981 to 1984, while dating other women, telling the jury, “I made it clear we were just friends and that is wasn’t going anywhere towards marriage.”

Defense attorney Mark Overland took exception with Ruetten’s characterization and was able to show a consistent pattern of dating between the two, that included a trip to Catalina and Palm Springs. Lazarus knew Ruetten’s siblings, met his parents in San Diego and even planned a surprise birthday party in February 1984. Overland showed Ruetten photographs that apparently were taken by Lazarus in Sonoma, California July 1984, one month after his relationship with Rasmussen began but he adamently denied that Lazarus went to Sonoma with him July 1984.

Ruetten met Rasmussen at a party in June of 1984 and immediately begain dating her. Ruetten admitted that he had sexual relations with Lazarus during his engagement with Rasmussen but had cut if off in 1985. Ruetten had been more resistant to the questioning of Overland not recalling many of the answers and at times Ruetten did not sound sincere. For example, Overland asked Ruetten when was the last time he had contact with Lazarus prior to his wife being killed in 1986 and he replied sometime in 1985, but then later stated that he does not remember talking to Lazarus after meeting Rasmussen in June 1984, but on direct examination, Ruetten admitted to having sex with Lazarus after he was engaged to Rasmussen, which would have been in 1985.

Ruetten also told the jury that in 1989 he revisited the relationship with Lazarus, about three years after his wife was murdered, and accompanied her on a trip to Hawaii.

He told the jury that he never thought that Lazarus was involved in the killing of his wife, but in 2009, when cold case detectives questioned him about women that would have wanted to harm Rasmussen in 1986, he told them to investigate Lazarus.

Much time during cross examination in the afternoon, was spent on trying to determining the status of the condo front door which the killer entered through. Ruetten did not remember if it was locked and how often he used that door as opposed to the door in the garage, but since there were no signs of a breached entry, the prosecution believes that Lazarus picked the lock after recently taking pick locking classes.

Ruetten has described the door as being possibly unlocked and opened but not necessarily ajar. After several questions on this one issue, Judge Robert Perry was growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the trial and when Overland presented a transcript to help refresh Ruetten’s memory on previous statements he made regarding the door, the transcript appeared to be incorrectly labeled further delaying the trial angering Judge Perry.

Perry excused the jury and had a brief heated exchange with Overland where he told him that his deliberate cross examination was not truth finding, unimportant and taking up valuable time. Judge Perry summarized Overland’s cross examination in three simple questions regarding the door.

Overland shot back that it was unfair for the court to determine what is important regarding his cross examination and then Judge Perry read from California evidence code 765 that states:

a judge may take certain actions and The court shall exercise reasonable control over the mode of interrogation of a witness so as to make interrogation as rapid, as distinct, and as effective for the ascertainment of the truth, as may be, and to protect the witness from undue harassment or embarrassment.

Judge Perry, calmly told Overland that he has to do a better job with the organization of transcripts so he can effectively cross examine the witness without confusion. Overland, still very disappointed, told Judge Perry that he had no problem with getting organized but that he was concerned with the court’s characterization of his cross examination which is suppose to show no sign bias.

Perry, called the jury back into the court and excused them for the day. Ruetten will resume his cross examination on Thursday morning.

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 15 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.

10 Comments for “Widower testifies about finding dead wife after murder”

  1. Details are coming to light. He also said that the defendant, his ex did show up at his then wife, the victim’s job once. And, he told the police that he didn’t suspect his ex, the defendant as a possible person of interest. Hmmm….thn he hooks back up with her after his wife is ked?

  2. Problem

    what chance was the husband involved? They always say that when a wife is ked you must look to the husband. What’s the deal with that?

    • LAPD Detective Lyle Mayer, excluded the husband as a suspect. Within 3 weeks of the investigation, Mayer believed that Sherri Rasmussen was ked during an interrupted burglary.

      I don’t believe that anyone is or has pointed the finger towards John Ruetten. The just got married 3 months prior, he never received any life insurance and there is absolutely no motive for him to be involved.

  3. Jack Casey

    Sure are A LOT of criminal cops in the news these days.

    A former California Highway Patrolman who has been in prison for the last 20 years claims his 20 years is “enough” for his murdering a young female teenager near San Diego. Dozens of women came forward in that trial to testify that the cop had pulled them over without cause in the night “just to talk.” NOBODY knows for sure how many he might have murdered.

    Their badge clearly does NOT guarantee honesty nor character. That badge is merely a job category for someone who otherwise would just be a truck driver or a warehouseman or a bar bouncer.

    • Gaffle

      You just cant trust the police today. That’s why they are always talking about building “trust” with the community, because too many if them are crooked. Serpico.

  4. […] of the prosecution witnesses, was that Lazarus was distraught and depressed that her ex-boyfriend, John Ruetten, broke up with her in 1984 when he met Rasmussen. They eventually married in November 1985, and […]

  5. […] John Ruetten, Rasmussen’s husband in 1986 is scheduled to testify on Wednesday. […]

  6. Good Cop

    Keep in mind that this went to trial because there ARE good cops who don’t give up and keep pressing for truth and justice. The comments here stating that there are a lot of bad cops discounts the 99.9% good ones. And no, Jack Casey, a lot of us wouldn’t be “truck drivers or warehousemen or bar bouncers”. And what is wrong with those professions anyway? Get off your pedestal you egoist.

  7. Asltw

    There is nothing wrong with those professions I believe the point that was being made was that these crooked police if not in this profession would and could be working a job such as that.

    I believe that possibly half of all police officers have done something considered illegal or have had knowledge of illegal acts and have turned the other cheek. I know of three myself. One of which is still an officer. The other is an blankembly man now and the third is married to the first.

    Because of situations such as this it makes it very hard for the public to trust the police. They believe that because they wear the uniform they are above the law and no one should be above the law especially those in uniform.

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