Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stephanie Lazarus: Preliminary Hearing Recap 1

Update July 17th, 2011: Continued from Preliminary Hearing, Day 1, Part II....
Witnesses have now been numbered for this day. Sprocket.

I have reviewed a loaned copy of the preliminary hearing transcript dated December 8th, 2009. At this time, I do not have access to the prior days of the preliminary hearing or the days after this day, where there have been more witnesses, as well as possibly opening statements and closing arguments presented. The witnesses are not numbered since I do not have all days transcripts yet.

Below is a synopsis of the transcript I reviewed. One of the things that I found interesting was Judge Perry asking witnesses many questions throughout their testimony. This may be normal for Judge Perry and how he conducts a preliminary hearing.

Robert J. Perry, 9th Floor, Dept. 104
Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center
Downtown Los Angeles, CA


Shannon Presby, DDA
Shelly Torrealba, DDA

Mark Overland
Julio Vergara

DECEMBER 8th 2009

Los Angeles Co. Deputy Coroner for 25 years. Performed the autopsy on Sherri Rae Rasmussen. In 1986, she had been working at the coroner's officer for a little over a year. She did a review of the autopsies she performed up until the date of Rasmussen's, and came up with a total of approximately 100 autopsies, 60 of those were gunshot wounds.

Rasmussen was shot three times at close range. One gunshot wound is described as "contact" wound with most likely, clothing between the barrel of the gun and the skin. The other two were described as "indeterminate" in range.

Selser testifies about an injury to Rasmussen's left arm that "appeared" to her to be a bite mark. There were notes/requests in the autopsy file dated 2/25/1986, from two consulting forensic odontologists (that apparently saw the body the day before the autopsy) to "excise" the area for examination, which she did.

Selser testifies about abrasion injuries on the right wrist and left elbow that she could "not exclude" being caused by a rope. She could not collect heart blood. There was none left inside the heart. She had to collect it from the "right pleural space." (This is the probably the sack/area that surrounds the heart.)

In cross examination, Selser could not say for certain "when" the injury that appears to be a bite mark occurred. Selser testifies, "The hemorrhage seems to indicate that the decedent was alive at the time the injury was sustained." Selser testifies to the various injuries on Rasmussen's hands.

LAPD Detective grade II, retired, July 1998. Served 20 years. In 1986, Hooks was a detective grade I assigned to Van Nuys, Burglary Investigations. He was called out to the location on Balboa Blvd., which he identifies as a townhome, condominium. He describes the general layout of the townhome. Ground floor was the garage level, then steps up to the general living area, most steps up to a kitchen area, then another flight up to a bedroom area.

Hooks describes several evidence photos of the residence outside and inside the townhome. He goes over his 14 pages of hand written notes and identifies items in photos. Documented in his notes and in photos items near the front door that appear to be "ligature type items" further described as "white rope" and "speaker wire." The "white rope" items appeared to have blood on them. The next items identified in his notes were a metal object and two fingernails on the entryway floor. The next items noted in his report and identified in photographs were two "video components" located a little further north inside the townhome, on the floor one stacked on top of the other. Also noted was a bloody fingerprint on the top video equipment component.

Hooks testifies to his notes and photographs that document a brown phone near the video components and a brown chair containing a multi-colored blanket. Next, is a drawer partially pulled (out?) and the contents partially on the floor. The items on the floor in front of the credenza (with the pulled out drawer) are identified in Hook's notes as "documents." Another chair with a quilted blue blanket on it is presented in photographs and the detective's notes. Photos of Rasmussen's body and how she was clothed are presented and documented in the detective's notes. Other items about the living room are described. The detective describes a type of shelving unit with a television and stereo equipment on top of collapsed shelves.

The lunch recess is called early so the Judge can take a verdict in another case. The preliminary hearing goes back on the record at 1:35 pm. Retired Detective Hooks is still on the stand. Hooks is asked to verify a group of photographs at once showing Rasmussen on the living room floor and the surrounding area. A broken vase is on the floor close to the Rasmussen's body. Injuries Hooks detailed in his notes and were photographed are verified: a head wound, the bullet holes through the victim's robe, her broken fingernails. After verifying the photographs, the detective describes other areas of the townhome and how nothing appeared out of order.

Photos are presented of the sliding glass door and curtain covering it. There were two bullet holes in the curtain and the sliding glass door was shattered. Upon closer inspection the door was still locked. The glass remaining in the door frame appeared to be blown outward towards the balcony. The upper floors of the residence were inspected. The bathroom, bedrooms and a study area room did not appear to be disturbed. They looked orderly and no drawers were pulled out. A visible jewelry box in the master bedroom did not appear to have been disturbed.

Hooks stayed at the scene until the coroner arrived. Photographs detail the body being moved by the coroner and a bullet underneath her back being collected by a coroner investigator. The alleged bite mark on Rasmussen is identified by the detective.

During cross examination Hook testifies that he arrived at the location at 7:48 pm and left at approximately 4:00 am. Hook testifies that to the best of his recollection, his partner was with him through the "note taking" portion of their examination of the scene as well as what the coroner and the coroner's investigators did at the scene. Hook does recall a Dr. Vale doing a cast of the bite mark but he cannot recall if that was done at the scene or later at the coroner's office.

The condition of the front door and the three locks (door knob lock and 2 deadbolts). In the detective's opinion, there did appear to be a few pry marks, scratches on the door jam but the locks themselves did not appear to be significantly tampered with. There appeared to be two bullet holes in the robe Rasmussen was wearing in the upper left chest area. There was a bloody palm print on a closet door right next to the front entrance door. This was approximately 15 to 20 feet from the body. Hooks does not recall if he directed any criminalist to take a swab of the blood on the closet door palm print.

The defense stipulates that documents identified as "crime scene log" is the log for this crime scene. On redirect, the prosecution tries to get the detective to identify Dr. Vale's name on the crime scene log. The there are objections back and forth and questions by Judge Perry. Hooks states that he had attended many autopsies and up until that time, he had never seen a cast being taken of a bite mark so that is why he remembers that a cast was taken. He had never seen it before so it was an unusual event for him.

In redirect, Hooks states that he is not an expert in lock picking and he would not be able to determine if a lock was picked by someone trained, and/or if tell-tale signs would be left behind and visible. There were knots visible in photographs of the ligature items. The rope and speaker wire were not tied together.

He attended UCLA and lived in Dykstra Hall, a residence hall of the campus. He met John Ruetten in 1978 at a front desk area where Ruetten worked. The witness testifies that later in the same year, he also worked at the front desk of Dykstra Hall. Neuman and Ruetten were roommates at Dykstra Hall in the winter of 1979 to summer, 1980. He describes his relationship to Mr. Ruetten as "a good friend." Neuman also met the defendant around the same time and described her as a friend (at that time) also.

Neuman testifies about a trip all three of them took to San Francisco. He verifies photos taken at the Golden Gate Bridge during the trip. Based on his observations of Ruetten and Lazarus, Neuman believes Lazarus was romantically interested in Ruetten. He also sensed that Ruetten was not interested in returning the defendant's affections. He did not recall Ruetten having a serious dating relationship while attending UCLA.

Stipulations are made between prosecution and defense as to anticipated testimony by Richard Heath. That when Richard Heath signed the envelope depicted in People's six (6) for identification on February 25th, 1986, that the envelope was in it's original condition and that the case number, the evidence description, evidence location, and by whom or which criminalist the information was completed was on the envelope and was legible and the envelope was not torn in any way at that time.

The second stipulation is to the identity of the victim. That the same individual identified in People's 20 is the same as the victim.

There is a disagreement as to a potential witness, Jayme Weaver, an officer who worked with Lazarus at Devonshire Division. While at the division, Lazarus showed her a black tool kit which Lazarus identified to her as a lock-pick set and that Lazarus stated she had taken a class in lock-picking. The defense wants this testimony ruled inadmissible. The objection is relevancy. Overland is contending that there is no evidence Rasmussen's door locks were picked and that one witness, Ms. Goldberg will testify that Rasmussen often left her front door unlocked. Judge Perry counters that it shows an ability to gain entrance. Overland states that the prejudicial aspect outweighs the possible probative value. Judge Perry disagrees. He doesn't know how prejudicial it is to the defendant, but he allows the testimony because it sounds like it will be very brief, and just part of the people's possible theory of entrance.

Currently employed as regional director of Andrews International, a privately held security firm. Before that he was an LAPD officer for 25 years. He retired in 2006 with a rank of Sergeant I. Witness testifies he knew Lazarus and identifies her for the court. Hargrieves states he believes he first met the defendant in 1982 or 1983 at Hollywood Division where they were both assigned. Hargrieves and the defendant became work friends. They occasionally socialized together between 1983 and 1985. In late 1984 or early 1985, he moved into Stephanie's Million Hills 2 bedroom townhome as a roommate. It was a platonic relationship; they were never romantically involved. Although a few times Hargrieves tried to pursue a romantic relationship, Lazarus did nor reciprocate those feelings.

Hargrieves testifies that during the time he lived with Lazarus, Lazarus spoke of dating John Ruetten throughout college and that she was still dating him at that time. He moved out of Lazarus's condo on February 14th, 1986. Hargrieves testifies to Lazarus's level of fitness and ability during those years. He and the defendant both participated in track and field events for LAPD at the L.A.P.R.A.C., competing in the police Olympics. In 1985, the event was held in San Jose. They trained years prior to that as well. They would train together at Cal State Northridge, using their track to run intervals for their sport. Hargrieves testifies that Lazarus's level of fitness for a woman officer in 1985 was "well above average" and "strong, very strong."

Her event that she trained with was either the 400 or 800 meter run. Hargrieves states she was a "prolific runner. " The witness states he never met John, but does remember about that Stephanie mentioned him about "half a dozen" times while they were roommates. He was not aware of any other dating relationships at this time. He does not remember any specific conversations where Lazarus poured her heart out to him, but she made statements to the effect that John was her idea of a "perfect guy."

Hargrieves recounts an event in the fall of 1985, late in the year that he remembers. Stephanie woke him up around 1 or 2 am upset and crying. Stephanie told him that she had been out with John. He was breaking up with her, ending their relationship; he planned to marry someone else. The conversation lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes. She wanted to calm down and suggested they do "buddy sit ups." Buddy sit ups are where you face each other, interlace your shins and use the resistance to do situps.

The witness is not clear as to how he remembers that Lazarus was at one time, talking about John and "this other girl at a hospital." The witness has a vague memory of possibly other incidents where the defendant was crying. After he moved out of Lazarus's home, they remained friends and worked together in the D.A.R.E. program. He remembers a specific conversation around that time, 1987, where he asked Lazarus about her dating situation. Hargrieves remembers one conversation where Lazarus responded that she hadn't met anyone that met "her criteria." The individual had to be tall, handsome, athletic, "like John." Lazarus specifically mentioned "John."

The witness testifies that he has met Lazarus's husband. He believes the defendant met her husband when she was with the D.A.R.E. program, traveling with other officers to other states to teach the D.A.R.E. program. "She met Scott on one of those trips." Hargrieves was not aware of any other dating relationships the defendant had from the time of the 2 am wake up until she met her current husband.

The witness testifies that he trained with the defendant on the shooting range and qualified with her on one occasion. Hargrieves states as far as Lazarus's proficiency with a firearm, she qualified as an "expert."

Hargrieves testified as to what officers carry as to weapons in his own experience and what was standard during his 25 years on the force. Officers have a primary firearm that is their duty firearm and they can also have a "backup firearm." The witness states he had a backup firearm and Lazarus did as well during the time they were roommates. Lazarus's backup firearm was a five shot, short barrel .38 revolver. He does not remember the model. Hargrieves is not certain in his memory of how he knew (either through Lazarus or some other source) about John's girlfriend working at a hospital or how he knew Ruetten worked as an E.M.T. or employed at the hospital in some way.

Retired LAPD officer of 20 years. She went through academy training in 1983 along with the defendant. Weaver and the defendant were friends. At one time they were both assigned to the Devonshire Division. Weaver was at Devonshire between 1985 to 1987. While at Devonshire, on one occasion the defendant showed her a set of tools that Lazarus identified as lock picking tools. She remembers two tools as being long and silver with something on the ends of them. The witness is not certain where Lazarus showed her the tools, either at Lazarus's home but Weaver believes it was in the locker area at Devonshire. The witness is not certain, but she believes that Lazarus told her she either read a book or took a course in "lock picking." The witness does remember Lazarus talking about a boyfriend she had in college, John Ruetten during the time they both worked at Devonshire. She does vaguely remember one incident where Lazarus said to her, something to the effect of, 'Remember by ex-boyfriend, his wife was killed.'

Under cross examination, Overland asks Weaver about being suspended for a time (unspecified) from Devonshire Division for lying. She's asked if she remembers a "Brady letter" supposedly stating she could not testify in court for a while, but Weaver does not.

He is a retail operations manager at the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club, also known as L.A.P.R.A.C. He's been in that position for 2-and-a-half years. Prior to that he worked as a gun manager. He's been in the field of gun management for 13 years. THE L.A.P.R.A.C. is a non-profit organization set up to support the LAPD. It's located at the Police Academy. They deal strictly with officers and not the general public. They provide weapons, guns to officers. When weapons are sold, there are certain documents, procedures that need to be followed. The state, the city and the federal government all have specific forms that need to be completed.

The witness outlines the procedures for keeping these documents and for how long. The federal form, 4473, must be maintained on the premises or place of business for at a minimum 20 years. On this particular form, the purchaser fills out the first half and the seller fills out the last half. An envelope and two documents inside are entered into evidence, both 4473 forms. One 4473 form is dated February 29th, 1984. The other 4473 form is dated March 19th, 1986. These forms were filed chronologically at the L.A.P.R.A.C. location and were retrieved at the request of Detective Jaramillo.

Judge Perry appears not to understand the purpose of the documents and asks questions to that effect. The 4473 forms document the purchase of firearms (by officers). The form dated February 29th, 1984 indicates the defendant purchased a Smith & Wesson revolver, model 49, caliber .38 special. A photograph of this model weapon is entered into evidence and the witness identifies it and the specific characteristics of this model weapon. The second 4473 document dated March 19th, 1986 indicates Lazarus bought another Smith & Wesson .38 caliber special, model number 649.

LAPD Detective assigned to Robbery/Homicide Division, Homicide Special Division. He's been employed by LAPD for 15 years. He was assigned to the Rasmussen case in May, 2009. A search warrant was conducted on the defendant's residence June 5th, 2009, the same day the defendant was arrested. Detective Stearns was the affiant for the search warrant and Judge William Ponders was the signing judge. The search warrant was signed on June 4th, 2009. The witness states that at this time, the search warrant is still under seal. He spoke to another officer, Detective Keven Baker regarding the search of the defendant's home.

A journal was recovered from the defendant's home. It was found inside a locked in an office. It was underneath other items. It was a 3 ring binder and the time covered was 1984 to 1987. The journal was booked into evidence and the entire journal digitally scanned. Physical copies were also made of the journal. The journal is broken up into sections of the time period it covers in a type of pattern. There is an abbreviation for different divisions within the LAPD. There are unit assignments that would be consistent with patrol unit assignments or other assignments at patrol division and there are last names listed in some of the journal entries, as well as dates.

Witness explains that D.F.A.R. is an acronym for daily field activity report. DFAR's are reports completed by officers of the department, generally uniformed or field officers to document their activities during their work period or shift. They are restricted to a particular date or officer's or group of partnering officers. "Daily Worksheets" are described. Stearns compared the DFAR's and Daily Worksheets" with specific dates in Lazarus's journal. The dates compared were: April 18th 1985, May 10th, 1985, June 4th, 1985, June 16th, 1985, June 18th, 1985 and December 12th, 1985. The witness states those journal dates corresponded with the DFAR's and Daily Worksheets.

Below are the following paragraph's that were found in Lazarus's journal and read in court.

April 18th, 1985.
"After lunch I was leaving - - I was leaving the lot and I saw John Ruetten's car. Just my luck. I put a note on it and watched the car for one half hour and checked up on it a few times. Well, I found out from him later that he had gotten into Fudruckers at about 12:10 just about five minutes before I left."

May 10th, 1985.
"I really can't remember anything else work wise. I did visit John Ruetten, but his girlfriend was over."

June 4th, 1985.
"We really didn't do much. I really don't feel like working. I found out that John is getting married. I was very depressed, very sad. My concentration was negative 10."

June 16th, 1985.
I really didn't feel like working. Too stressed out about John. I've had a real hard time concentrating these days, so I called up and said I didn't feel well and could I have - - could I have a T.O. They gave it to me."

The witness explains that a T.O. is nomenclature in the LAPD for "time off."

(It's not clear from the transcript what date the following entry was made.)
I got a card from Mrs. Ruetten. This made me very, very, very sad."

The witness explains that in this entry, the words "Mrs. Rutten" are underlined and there is an explanation point after the name.

The daily worksheets were checked for the defendant for February 24th, 1986. The defendant was not on duty from February 21st through February 24th, 1986.

In cross examination, the detective is asked if he checked Lazarus's work sheets for the week before the murder and the week after. He testifies that he might have, but doesn't have a recollection at this time if he did. Stearns reviewed the complete journal and did not see any references to John after December 12th, 1985. No references to Ruetten were found in the journal in the months of January 1986 or February 1986.

In redirect the witness states there are no references in her journal to her firearm being stolen.

The prosecution finishes with this witness early and there are no more witnesses. Overland asks the court if they could use the extra time to discuss another matter. This is in regard to Detective Jaramillo, and the questioning of the defendant before she was arrested.

Search warrants were being executed at more than one location while an attempt was made to interview the defendant. Overland asks that Detective Jaramillo be excused, since the objection the defense wants to make goes directly to his testimony. How the defendant was led to the jail area is explained to the judge, and that before questioning the defendant, (where she was video and audio recorded) she was not read her Miranda rights.

Overland has two objections. The first is that the questioning of Lazarus was done without Miranda. The second is based on a peace officer's bill of rights, government code 3300. Judge Perry indicates that he's not very familiar with that and Overland presents him with the argument. Overland explains, "Basically, the argument is police officers who are questioned by supervisors, which this is what Mr. Jaramillo falls under, are given immunity with respect to the statements in subsequent criminal prosecution. The reason for that is they are subject to administrative punishment for not answering questions. And therefore, those statements are compelled. That's kind of codified in Government code 3300 and following." Judge Perry asks Overland to cite cases and he will look at them. Overland cites several case law's to support his objection to entering into evidence the video and audio recording of Lazarus.

DDA Presby tells Perry that the state doesn't have to call Detectie Jaramillo next. They can litigate the issue at a time convenient for the court so it doesn't interrupt the flow of the prelim. The court does not wish to hear the prosecution's arguments at this time until he's had a chance to review the cited cases. Court is adjourned and everyone ordered back at 8:45 am the following day.

To be continued.....

Stephanie Lazarus Case Coverage Quick Links


Anonymous said...

Great job as usual. I've been following this case since the arrest.

David In TN

Sprocket said...

Thank you David. This was pretty easy since I was reading from the transcript. I hope to get the other days soon. I'm very interested in how the saliva evidence from the bite mark was "found" since that's the lynch pin of the prosecution's case.

Other evidence supports it

1.Lazarus's weapon reported stolen
2. Not working that day
3. Being distraught over John's marriage documented in her journal and via her roommate
4. The video taped interview

but those are not as compelling as the DNA. I'd also like to see how the bite mark evidence might match up since the prosecution was able to get a judge to order her to give up a bite mark impression.

ritanita said...

Thanks for following the hearings, Sprocket!

This case has me hooked from the get-go. I hope you get some more of those transcripts.

It is interesting we are both following cases with a Judge Perry!

Anonymous said...

I love this site and thank you for covering this case. I've been fascinated as to how she got away with this for so long. I'm thinking there are a few who sort of turned a blind eye way back then....of course we'll never get anyone to admit that.

Sprocket said...

Ritanita, The two judge Perry's: THANKFULLY, their first names are different.

The Lazarus judge Perry has stark white hair and looks a bit like "Matlock."

Unfortunately, his style on the bench doesn't hold a candle to Anthony's judge Perry!

4meezers said...

Fascinating case, great coverage as usual, Sprocket!

Slightly off-topic, I just read that Judge Lance Ito has a courtroom in the same building as this case, the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, and his nameplate keeps getting stolen by souvenir hunters. (I didn't realize Ito was still around).

"Judge Ito's nameplate is routinely stolen,” a source familiar with the situation told “The nameplates slide in and out of the holder on the doors, because the judges get reassigned to different courtrooms."...
"Criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors appearing in Ito’s courtroom "refer to it as the Nameless Judge's Courtroom,” the source added. “It's all done in good humor. Judge Ito is revered by his peers as being a very low key guy and an excellent judge."

This is only part of the article but I thought it was funny and Sprocket, next time you're down there you should see if you can find his courtroom & maybe snatch his newest nameplate, lol!

Sprocket said...


I didn't know Judge Ito's nameplate keeps getting stolen, but I do know where his courtroom is.

Ito's courtrooom is Dept. 110 on the 9th floor. The 9th floor is the only floor that has a security screening station. I "believe" it was built specifically for the Simpson trial, but I'm not positive. There are 11 courtrooms on the 9th floor: Department's 100-110.

From my understanding, Ito's "old" courtroom is Dept. 106, Judge Fidler's court, the same room that heard Phil Spector's trial and I believe, back then, also the OJ Simpson murder trial.

I've actually been in Ito's courtroom a few times. The media overflow room for the Dr. Murray preliminary hearing was in Ito's courtroom the second week.

And, I was almost a juror on a murder trial in Ito's courtroom. This was after I attended Robert Blake's trial, but before I attended Spector's trial. I was excused by the defense on the 2nd day.

Speaking of Robert Blake, I believe he lives in the community next to me, Van Nuys. I've seen him dinner shopping at Gelson's just a few days ago.

4meezers said...

Hi Sprocket,
Thank you! lots of interesting history & ghosts in those halls & courtrooms. Too bad you were dismissed in that murder trial, how fascinating that would've been. And Robert Blake, didn't he get into a fight with someone at a memorabilia show recently? Lol-

Sprocket said...

I am grateful I was kicked from the murder trial in Ito's courtroom. It's a weight of responsibility to sit in judgment of another human being.

I haven't followed Blake ever since he achieved a not-guilty verdict. I did see him in Trader Joe's, the day of his acquittal. He was in line in front of me. He didn't know how to use his credit card in their card swipe machines.

girlvagabond said...

Wow. I knew Don Baroni. I used to work for him back in 2008. Don't think he is manager at LAPRAAC anymore. Can't believe he testified in this case. 6 degrees of separation anyone?