Monday, August 15, 2011

Stephanie Lazarus Pretrial Hearing 7

Updated: 12:30 pm

Today starts a three-day hearing in the Stephanie Lazarus case to hear defense motions to exclude evidence. From my understanding, defense counsel Mark Overland plans to call several prosecution witnesses over the next three days. I will have an updates on today's hearing at the noon lunch break and later this evening. Stephanie Lazarus is charged with the murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, the new wife of her former boyfriend in 1986. This cold case was solved 23 years later by DNA evidence. The trial is scheduled to start in mid October, 2011, with DDA's Shannon Presby and Paul Nunez representing the people.

Update: 12:30 pm
Stephanie Lazarus, Kelly Soo Park, Clarkson Family Civil Suit against Phil Spector and that HBO "dramatization" of Spector's legal woes.

What a frustrated morning I had! I got out the door on time, that wasn't a problem. My drive into downtown was perfect; it only took about 25 minutes to get to the budget parking lot. It was right when I was going to pull into the lot. I reached into my purse to get my wallet to pay the attendant when I realized I left my wallet at home. I called Mr. Sprocket, hoping he hadn't left the house yet. He was still home, but not nearly ready to leave for his project in Glendale. His first thought was to just go to a branch of our bank and get some cash. I asked him, "How would I prove who I was?" I had no identification on me. Having worked in the banking industry for over 15 years as an internal auditor, I knew it would be near impossible to withdrawal even twenty dollars out of our checking account. I knew that I was going to miss possible testimony because Judge Robert J. Perry is a stickler for starting right at 8:30 am.

I immediately headed back home and Mr. Sprocket and I planned to meet at a freeway exit. By the time I got back downtown and inside Judge Perry's courtroom, he was already ruling on the second of two motions presented. And that was it. No three day hearing with testimony. The next court date is August 25th, 2011. I had to get most of my information from other people who were there from the beginning.

From my understanding, two motions were heard and ruled on today. I heard the tail end of Judge Perry's ruling on the second motion regarding the prosecution having a forensic expert testify as to whether or not the crime scene was a "staged event."

Judge Perry basically said the expert can testify about what was found at the crime scene and whether or not that was consistent with a burglary. The witness cannot speculate. Judge Perry will allow him to offer an opinion. "He can be your 'pull it together witness' as to how (he believes?) the crime occurred, the number or shots, the sequence of events..."

Judge Perry then talks about something where I'm not fully getting the gist. The expert cannot testify about "...the hand over the mouth or torn septum... (snip) (If? It's?) the medical examiner offers an opinion as to how (that?) occurred....but he can't say it on his own."

Judge Perry continues "...broken nail at the front door.... no (?) at the upper level...he can opine. I don't know what to do about the cordage.... (or?) need for more cordage. (It?) could be an attempt to kidnap..... I thought probably (a?) permissible opinion. (snip) He can offer that as part (of the crime scene that's) not consistent with a burglary..... but not kidnap. (I?) don't think (there's) anything (there) to support kidnap."

Then Judge Perry instructs Mr. Presby what he should say for argument, that the witness cannot say as opinion. The narrow window of time, and that the killer waited until the husband was gone. That's not permissible on speculation (by the expert). "All that you can argue," Perry rules. "How committed the killer was, no financial gain.... pure argument....the level of violence. (snip) The adjustment of the driver's seat on the BMW, I don't know that that's permissible for this witness. The fact of adjusting of the driver's seat goes more to the size of the offender. (snip) (It) points to personal cause....argument."

Judge Perry then talks a bit about the recovery of the purse. The purse was found by gardeners, groundskeepers. Mr. Presby states that the gardener's are not even around. Perry states then that the witness can't even talk about it. Perry states the witness can talk about facts that are inconsistent with a burglary and he can say how he things the crime occurred; the evidence inconsistent. Then the front door and whether it was locked or unlocked is mulled over. From what Judge Perry was saying, the front door had three locks and the condo had an alarm system, but apparently from statements John Ruetten, the front door might have been left unlocked because from the night before because of a visitor. Judge Perry states, "There's no evidence of forced entry that I can see....I realize that I'm cutting him way back."

Judge Perry then asks if there's anything from the defense? Mark Overland responds, "No."

The jury questionnaire is then mentioned. Judge Perry states he received a revised copy from the people and that it's quite extensive (larger) that the one he saw before. Mr. Presby stands and explains that the prosecution and the defense agree on almost all except question #74. Judge Perry states he will look at it. Presby then brings up one other matter, the scheduling (on? of?) course of the trial.

Mr. Overland talks about discovery and that he still doesn't have some important evidence from the people. Overland wants to set the next court date, "sooner rather than later." Overland would like a date set in ten days for the LAPD to give him materials. "And additional discovery that might be missing." Judge Perry asks, "You still planning a motion on the DNA?" Overland states that he is. His expert just received the evidence. Judge Perry rules the next hearing to be August 25th and at that time they will set dates for further motions.

The people who were in the gallery were Nels and Loretta Rasmussen and their attorney John Taylor. Lazarus' mother was there along with her friend who was at a prior hearing on June 30th. Steven Lazarus, Stephanie's brother was there with a female friend with short blondish hair. The Dateline producer was there along with Matthew McGough, from The Atlantic.

After the hearing I got a quick update on what I missed. There were 18 sections of the secretly video tape recorded interview with Lazarus that were objected to being presented to the jury. Three or four of those sections were excluded but the overall majority (well over 90% of the tape) will be admitted into evidence and the jury will get to see the tape. The defense has withdrawn their "chain of custody of evidence motion" and will argue at trial (through objections) the admissibility of the "bite mark swab" evidence.

I had just a moment to speak with attorney John Taylor about the upcoming civil suit against Phil Spector. The case is still on for trial on January 9th, 2012. If there is no settlement by the parties before then, it's expected at that time the case will be moved out of the Pasadena courthouse to a "long cause judge" and fighting for a time on that judge's calendar at either the Stanley Mosk Courthouse or the Central Civil West Courthouse.

After the hearing I got to chat a bit with Lisa from ABC network. Since she missed the hearing I got her up to date on what I had just heard as well as letting her know that Judge Perry is a stickler for starting on time and never allowing cameras inside the courtroom, or computers or blackberry's. She was kind enough to let me know that the next Kelly Soo Park hearing is set for September 14th, possibly at 9:00 am.

And a last word about David Mamet's "docu-drama" on Phil Spector's legal woes. (Y'all already know how I feel about the potential accuracy of this film.) Helen Mirren has replaced Bette Midler in the role of Linda Kenny Baden. Midler had to pull out after suffering a herniated disk. Although I adore Helen Mirren ever since I first saw her in the British series Prime Suspect, I thought Midler was a more believable casting choice. Photos have surfaced of Al Pacino in makeup and wigs to look like the eccentric Spector. The problem Pacino will have trouble duplicating is Spector's lack of anything resembling a chin and the great flabs of hanging skin around his neck before Spector's nip/tuck.


Anonymous said...

Sprocket - Thanks for the update. It is always an adventure reading your postings. I look forward to your upcoming coverage.

Chris said...

By the way . . . I concur on the Helen Mirren comments. Great actress but Bette was a ringer for the role! Take care.

tombreeze said...

Hi loved reading about this case I live on England and only seen this tonight on cbs reality look forward to seeing your next coverage.tom

Anonymous said...

Yes we thank you!

Why would the Spector trial be subject to move if it is already on the docket with start date, etc.
-Wes J.

Sprocket said...

Thank you everyone!


Long cause civil or criminal trials are rarely (if ever) handled at the outlying courthouses. There are two different courthouses where the case could be transferred: Stanly Mosk or Central Civil West Courthouse.

There's always the possibility that Spector will settle the suit before it reaches trial.

Sandy said...

As in most trials it seems that certain key evidence, the pieces of the puzzle that make it possible to 'judge' the facts, are being threatened by the defense and the truth may be an unwelcome visitor.