Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
A retired Los Angeles Police detective has been sentenced to 27 years to life in prison on Friday for murdering her ex-boyfriend's wife more than two decades ago.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Stephanie Ilene Lazarus, 52, has been convicted of biting and shooting Sherri Rasmussen, 29, in her house in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1986. Lazarus, who became a veteran art theft detective, could get parole in 22 years. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry gave Lazarus credit for time served in jail since her arrest at LAPD headquarters in June 2009.
A jury convicted her in March of first-degree murder. According to prosecutors, Friday's sentence was the maximum under state law. Lazarus was charged with staging the crime scene to make it look like a burglary, with police believing that Rasmussen was the victim of two male burglars.
The 1986 case went cold for years, reopened in 2004, and again in 2009, when DNA from a bite mark on the victim's arm came back as a match to Lazarus'. When she became a suspect, homicide detective faced "special challenges as Lazarus' office was located next door to the detectives who were now investigating her," police said in March.
Rasmussen, a hospital nurse supervisor, was the new wife of John Ruetten, who was Lazarus' college sweetheart. Married for only three months, Ruetten found his wife's body after work brutally beaten and shot three times in the chest.
"Lazarus has never taken responsibility for her acts," the prosecutors Shannon Presby and Paul Nunez wrote. "Lazarus has never expressed any regret or remorse for her actions. Lazarus' profound narcissism led her to kill and continues to motivate her denial of responsibility. This unrepentant selfishness poses a real and significant danger to any person whose interests conflict with Lazarus' egotistic desires."
"Not only did the family of Sherri Rasmussen lose a wife and a daughter, a life that can never be returned, but also the LAPD family felt a sense of betrayal to have an officer commit such a terrible crime," said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. "I am also sorry it took us so long to solve this case and bring a measure of justice to this tragedy."
At the time of the killing, Lazarus was in her second year with the LAPD. The killing happened on February 24, 1986, Lazarus had taken the day off, while Rasmussen had called in sick. Authorities state that she died before lunchtime.
It is argued that Lazarus was obsessively in love with Ruetten and depressed when she learned he married someone else. Ruetten testified that he casually dated Lazarus after college, but never considered her a girlfriend and dated other women while seeing her. Lazarus married a Los Angeles Police detective and adopted a daughter eventually.
Rasmussen's family had pointed to an ex-girlfriend of Ruetten's who was a cop, and as technology became more and more advanced, undercover police followed Lazarus to a Costco store and retrieved a soda that was thrown away from her. The saliva from the straw matched the bite mark DNA, and she then became a suspect.
She was then confronted. The LAPD devised a plan to arrest Lazarus on June 5, 2009. Detective Daniel Jaramillo approached Lazarus at her desk and asked her to join him downstairs to the department's jail facility, where she could not bring her firearm. He then told Lazarus that he needed her help interrogating a man who claimed to have information on stolen art.
After one of the detectives went to the evidence that implicated her in the killing, Lazarus said, "Am I on 'Candid Camera' or something? This is insane. This is absolutely crazy. This is insane."
She ten walked out of the interview room, only to be stopped, handcuffed, and told that she was under arrest for the murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen.
John Overland, Lazarus's attorney, argued in court that the crime scene evidence from 1986 was mishandled and could not be trusted.
© 2012, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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