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.