Friday, December 2, 2011

Stephanie Lazarus Pretrial Hearing 12


Stephanie Lazarus at a prior hearing

There is a pretrial hearing this morning in the Stephanie Lazarus case. You can find all my stories covering this case, as well as links to mainstream media stories here.

Lazarus is charged with first degree murder in the 1986 death of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, the new wife of her former boyfriend, John Ruetten. I will have an update on the hearing later this evening.

Sherri Rae Rasmussen

UPDATE 11:15 am

I arrive inside Judge Perry's courtroom, Department 104 a few minutes past 8:30. I'm in luck. The hearing hasn't started yet.

Sherri Rae Rasmussen's family is sitting in the front row. DDA Shannon Presby is speaking softly but intently to Nels, Sherri's father while showing him some documents. I get a couple seconds glimpse of the top page. I cannot be certain of what I saw, but it appeared to be a computer print of a photo of two people, outside in a beach setting. I "think" there was also quite a bit of text on the page also. The image looked "washed out" and I was too far away to recognize any faces in the few seconds I saw it.

DDA Paul Nunez is sitting beside Nels, Sherri's father, showing him something on a laptop.

Lazarus' mother is by herself, sitting on the very end of the first bench row. I don't see Lazarus' counsel anywhere. There are several reporters here from the mainstream media. Matthew McGough (who did that excellent piece in The Atlantic on the case), Greg Fisher, 48 Hours producer, Lisa, producer from ABC and Robert Dean, Dateline producer. The two Robbery-Homicide detectives are also here sitting on the right side of the courtroom in front of the bailiff's box.

8:41 am: Courtney and Mark Overland come out of the jail holding area. Presby comes over to Overland and is showing them a packet of information. Lazarus comes out from the jail area a few moments later. She's carrying a small bag and is wearing the same thing I've always seen her in, a white long sleeved undershirt on underneath her orange jumpsuit.

8:45 am: Judge Perry takes the bench and goes on the record, detailing that all parties are present. He states that this is a status conference, with the case set at 0/60 as of today. Perry asks if the parties are ready. Mark Overland asks the court to set the case for trial.

Presby states for the record that the prosecution handed over discovery to the defense today. Some of the discovery were items previously requested that they didn't' have as well as some new items. The prosecution also turned over to the defense Lazarus' LAPD personnel file, since the defense requested it and there are no privacy issues involved.

Presby then tells the court something that is somewhat of a bombshell, at least to the media in the gallery. The coroner's investigator, Lloyd Mahanay has died. He died on October 14th, 2011, just days before the case was originally slated to go to trial. Presby confirms for Judge Perry that Mahanay testified at the preliminary hearing.

Mahanay was the first witness the prosecution called at the prelim, and is also the key individual who collected the bite mark swab evidence from Sherri Rae Rasmussen's body at the scene back in 1986. The defense has contested this evidence because when it was found in the coroner's freezers, the envelope was torn and (apparently) the top of the evidence tub containing the swabs was sticking out.

Presby states the prosecution has received from the defense a report written by the defense's firearms expert. Presby tells Judge Perry that all other discovery items will be handled informally.

Judge Perry asks Overland what his schedule is like and Overland states he is in trial right now. Perry asks both parties about starting the trial on January 30th, 2012, by handing out the questionnaires on that date. Voir dire would then start on Thursday, February 2nd. If all went well then opening statements would start on February 6th.

Overland states that there are still some outstanding questions on the questionnaire and when would they be able to discuss those. Perry tells him that he has added a couple of questions per his request and he can E-mail the prosecution and defense the updated questionnaires so they can go over them.

I think something is said about the defense adding names to their witness list, but I'm not positive.

There is discussion about having one more pretrial conference to check in before trial starts. Judge Perry picks Friday, January 20th as a "soft date" and if there are any other motions to get them filed so that they can be argued on that date.

And that's it. The hearing is over. There is a short bit of friendly banter between Shannon Presby and Mark Overland and then Presby heads over to the family to speak to them out in the hallway.


Anonymous said...

thanks for all your reports on this case I have been following it since the story broke,

I wonder if the death of the coroner investigator who took the bite mark swab will affect the case

hopefully not as they have his prelim testimony

Anonymous said...

Sprocket, I notice the photo of Lazarus shown here is one that is frequently used in the media. In it she looks particularly "crazed". I was wondering if that is her typical expression that you see in the courtroom or just an unfortunate capture of a quick off-look.
I look forward to your coverage of this trial! With representatives from all of the major network magazine shows, it appears that this will get widespread coverage but none will be as good as yours!


Utah Chris said...

Thank you. I did a quick search to see if there was an obit and found Lloyd Mahanay was involved with the John Belushi death case as well. Interesting. It's a small world in Los Angeles.

Sprocket said...

Anon @ 11:25 am:
There may be motions by the defense to try to exclude Mahanay's testimony but I believe they will fail. There was cross examination of this witness by Overland at the prelim. It's my bet that the testimony will be read into the record at trial. Not as powerful as if the witness is on the stand, but the evidence will make it into the record.

Lazarus does not have that bug-eyed look inside the courtroom. This is TOTAL SPECULAITON on my part...(and I believe I've said this before in prior comments) but it's my opinion that at the time the photo was taken, Lazarus' medication for her thyroid was not "right on."

Her brother mentioned in one article that she had cancer, and I either read somewhere or it was during pretrial motions something was said about her medication for her thyroid.

In that photo, it is my opinion that she has the look of her thyroid either being hyper or hypo-thyroid...and that can easily happen if her dosage or medication is off.

IF Lazarus did have thyroid cancer, and had her thyroid completely removed, that delicate balance, to get the medication that replaces the thyroid hormone just right, can sometimes make the eyes look like this.

Utah Chris,
Thank you Chris. There are not that many "coroner investigators" (criminalists) who go out to crime scenes to collect evidence. The coroner's criminalist who collected evidence in the Phil Spector case, Jaime Lintemoot, also testified in the Conrad Murray case. IIRC, at the time of Spector, 20% of her time/duties were going out to scenes to collect evidence. The majoritiy of her time was in the biology lab.

In Murray, she did not collect evidence at the scene; she tested evidence collected for propofol.

Deb Tasker said...

I am a criminal justice student and wrote a report on this case for a class in the fall of 2010. I became interested in the case because of the delay in DNA profiling to identify the suspect.
Also I am old enough to remember the crack & drug crimes of the early 1980's,which led to the Three Strikes and You're out sentencing changes. My heart goes out to the Rasmussen family for waiting so long for justice for Sherri.
I appreciate your comprehensive coverage and now that I have found your site, I will continue to use T & T for my resource. Keep up the good work.

Sprocket said...


Thank you for your comments on T&T's coverage.

Back in the 1980's, the murder rate in LA County was quite high and the coroner's office and LAPD were very busy just trying to keep up.

In addition, DNA testing was not the testing that it is today. The first time DNA was accepted as evidence in a courtroom was (I believe) 1986? 1987? by Jeff Ashton (retired prosecutor from the Casey Anthony case).

It's my understanding (I could be wrong) that when Sherri Rae Rasmussen was murdered in 1986, biological samples were collected (bite mark swab) not for DNA testing, but to basically determine blood type of the perp.

Anonymous said...

You are AWESOME!! This case has fascinated me from day one!!! And your coverage of it is flawless; very intriguing and conversational!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow........what a case........I live in England and came across this case by accident really.........absolutely fascinating....the coverage is concise and succinct....easy to follow....will be riveted come February...thanks again...Colette

Anonymous said...

Thanks for covering this story. I grew up with John Reutten and have been having a difficult time finding out what was going on. Our prayers go out to every one involved. This is a horrible situation in which no one will ever win.
Keep up the good work!