Sherri Rae Rasmussen
There is a pretrial hearing today in the Stephanie Lazarus case. For those of you who have been living in a cave, Stephanie Lazarus, a 25-year veteran detective of the LAPD has been charged with the February 1986 cold case murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, the new wife of her ex-boyfriend, John Ruetten. Her trial is scheduled to start January 30th, 2012 with jury selection.
Last Friday we learned that the parties will be arguing "chain of custody", most likely concerning the bite mark swab located in the Coroner's freezers back in December 2004. It's also possible the prosecution will be presenting motions for a "402" hearing regarding one or several defense witnesses testimony. What is a 402 hearing? It's a preliminary hearing to determine the admissibility of evidence. It's conducted outside the presence of the jury, or before a trial starts.
I forgot to mention it in my last entry, but Judge Perry did indicate that if they are unable to get through all the motions (or any testimony) today, they will be able to reconvene of Friday, January 27th, 2012. I will have an update later tonight or Thursday.
UPDATE: January 25th, 2012 9:55 am
I've made it to the cafeteria in the lobby with a half hour to spare and purchased my first bottle of water for the day. One of my personal goals for covering this case is to try to stick with water or tea and not slip back into drinking soda for a pick-me-up caffeine fix when I'm dragging. When I walked by the rear entrance windows, I saw Nels and Loretta Rasmussen in the cafeteria. They both smiled at me as I walked by. Both Nels and Loretta have been very polite to me during all these pre-trial hearings.
I don't have any expectation that I will be one of the reporters selected for the pool reporter during voir dire (if Judge Perry even allows a single seat for the media) but I will hang out in the hallway anyway, to see if I can get any information during breaks.
If you are considering attending some of this trial, I recommend getting here before court starts and Judge Perry is one of the judge's who is usually very punctual to the 8:30 am start time. Although there are several lots much closer to the courthouse, I park two-and-a-half blocks south of the Criminal Court Building in Broadway. There is a Joe's Parking on the west side of the street that is only $9.00 per day. All you have to do is walk up Broadway and you can enter the building from the rear. The incline up Broadway is not that steep, even for those out of shape like myself. New management has taken over the dim cafeteria of old but I have not tried the new menu; I usually bring my lunch. The walls are painted some bright colors but the chairs, tables and floor is the same.
The other thing to be cognizant about is there could be long lines to get through building security as well as the time waiting for an elevator. There are only four elevators that go to the 9th floor from the lobby and the area in front of the elevators is often jammed with people trying to get to their courtroom. Then when you reach the 9th floor, there is another security scanning station to clear. I'll try to check back in during the lunch break.
UPDATE 12:05 pm
The short news is, the hearing is over and there will be no collected or DNA tested evidence excluded at trial. The chain of custody issue raised by the defense on several items of evidence was denied. The bite mark swab comes in, as do the torn fingernails, blood stains, blood stain typing, fingernails collected by the coroner and DNA testing done on those items. The evidence collected by investigators that are deceased (Ochi (sp?) and Mahanay will be allowed in. Judge Perry ruled against cameras in the courtroom for opening statements. The court ruled, "Because of my uncomfortableness of where this (case) is going, I'm not going to allow cameras (for opening statements)." (More of what he meant by that in my detailed update.) Judge Perry also limited the number of reserved seats for the defendant's and victim's families to eight seats each.
I'll have a detailed update on the hearing late tonight or later in the week. I'll get to it as soon as I can.