Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 12

Edited 2-24-2012 for clarity, spelling; added commentary on blood type and rulings.

2-22-2012 Defense attorney Mark Overland
© Thomas Broersma

As I write this, I’m currently on the Red Line train. The prosecution is almost at the end of their case-in-chief. They will finish either today or tomorrow. Latent print criminalist Aguilar is still on the stand under direct examination. There are a couple more witnesses still to testify, including the prosecution’s crime scene analyst who will present the prosecution’s theory that this was a staged crime scene.

It has not been cleared up to my satisfaction the issue of the marriage certificate and whether it was taken from the town home or not. Rasmussen’s husband on the stand only mentioned the BMW as being stolen. We have not heard anything about the certificate from any other witness. We have heard from about 46 or 47 witnesses so far in the prosecution’s case. Over lunch, I will try to work on getting the witness list caught up.

Overland has informed the mainstream media he will start his case either Friday or Monday.

10:00 AM
We have replaced latent print expert Aguilar with latent print expert Michael Ames, who is currently under cross examination. Ames did work at the crime scene on February 25th, 1986. He also did some analysis of identifying collected prints later. He also tested several surfaces with 'ninhidren (sp?) and tested for latent prints on the recovered BMW on March 8th, 1986 at the Van Nuys Station. Ames also did some work identifying prints on the case in 2003, via a request by the LAPD Cold Case Squad.

Under direct examination Ames was asked, "Is it possible to leave a print wearing gloves?" Ames replied, "I would say no. Ames was also asked if it is possible to wipe up prints, destroying what was there. I believe he answered, "Yes."

11:45 AM
We are taking an early lunch since the prosecution ran out of witnesses this morning. After Ames was excused, the people called Cheryle Massaro (sp?). When she came into the courtroom DDA Presby gave her a bottle of water. Judge Perry commented, "I always worry when (they) hand water to a witness," and several in the courtroom laugh. DDA Presby presents the witness.

Massaro is the custodian of records for the California Department of Firearms. She verified a database called the Automated Firearm System (AFS) for the S&W Model 49 weapon that Lazarus purchased. She verified the database on February 17th, 2012 and that is is current as of February 18th, 2012. (That was confusing to me. Either it's up to date as of February 17th or 18th or I misheard the date at some point in her testimony.) Stephanie Ilene Lazarus purchased the weapon on February 29th, 1984. It was reported stolen by the Santa Monica Police Department on March 9th, 1986. There was no indication on the record that there was any reporting from the LAPD. The weapon has not been reported found in California.

SP: Do police departments have a duty to report that a firearm is recovered?

CM: Yes.

Massaro also checked the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database to determine if Lazarus' stolen weapon was recovered in any other state in the country (or US territories). It has not been reported recovered in NCIC.

On cross examination Massaro verified that police agencies are the ones who enter information on stolen weapons into the data base and that they regularly check the data base to inquire about stolen weapons. Overland asked if thieves check the data base but Judge Perry interrupted and stated that question was argumentative. No one other than law enforcement checks the data bases.

After Massaro was excused, Judge Perry commented, "You didn't need that water after all," which elicited a few more laughs from the gallery.

Outside the presence of the jury, DDA Nunez brought up to Judge Perry that they do not feel the need to call Detective Jim Nuttall to the stand. Nuttall testified at the preliminary hearing. Overland has an issue with something Nuttall documented on the evidence log and plans to call him if the prosecution does not.

(If I recall correctly, since Nuttall is under their subpoena to testify, then the prosecution is required to provide him if Overland wants to question him in his case-in-chief.)

And that was it for the morning session today. I will answer comments when I get home tonight.

12:23 PM
I see John Ruetten in the hallway.

1:42 PM
We had two more witnesses who testified about the unique characteristics of Sherri Rasmussen's blood. The first witness was Dr. Connie Westhoff, who in 2009 was asked to type Sherri's blood and found a unique variant in her Type O blood. She typed out as an O01/O09, which means she had Type A alleles that were masked. She performed further blood testing on samples from her parents that determined her father had the same trait confirming that this unique variant is inherited.

(How Dr. Westhoff explained it in detail made no sense to me, if I heard her correctly. I interpreted her testimony to mean that Type A is older than Type O, but she didn't say that directly. I know that our blood type is expressed as sugars. Type O is old and goes back 50,000 years. Type's A & B are no more than 25,00 years old. As far as expression goes, type O is the base, made from fucose, a basic sugar. You get Type A by adding the sugar the sugar N-acetyl-galactosamine. You get Type B by adding the sugar D-galactosamine. You get Type AB by adding both those sugars. She said something to the effect that a Type A becomes a Type O by "cleaving off" that N-acetyl-galactosamine. I wish I had taken better notes.)

After Dr. Westhoff, we had Moses Schanfield, Professor of Forensic Science and Anthropology and a geneticist. He testified that with the blood type testing done in 1986, it would be possible for Sherri Rasmussen's blood to type out as either Type O, a weak Type A or a mixture of Type O and Type A, giving misleading results in the ABO typing system. Schanfield testified that all the single donor samples that underwent DNA testing in this case by either the LAPD or SERI, tested out to a single source as Sherri Rasmussen's blood. This testimony was very fascinating to me because of my long time interest in the Blood Type Diet.

Overland made a motion objection to strike the testimony of both witness, arguing that it violated Ms. Lazarus sixth amendment rights. (Dr. Westhoff did not perform the testing herself; she just analyzed the results.) Judge Perry denied the motion.

9:00 PM
I'm finally rested a bit where I can give you an update on the rest of today's testimony. Before the last two witnesses testified, Overland had an objection to Schanfield testifying about population studies. Even though the information is in Schanfield's CV, and is an expert in population genetics, the people did not give the defense adequate notice they were going to ask him about the programs used to calculate the random chance of a particular DNA profile. The prosecution argued that the defense challenged these population statistics in cross and that this was an out-of-town witness they might not be able to get back due to scheduling. Judge Perry understood the prosecutions issue but he wasn't moved. He granted the defense motion to exclude this particular direct testimony by the witness. Judge Perry did rule the prosecution could call him in their rebuttal case.

I did observe two alternate jurors in the back row give each other a look after Overland cross examined Dr. Westhoff, challenging that she didn't perform the specific tests herself.

(It was brought out in arguments outside the presence of the jury when Judge Perry first ruled on whether or not these two witness could testify, that some of the processes in Westhoff's lab are automated and some are performed by a technician. However, the technician does not have the ability to interpret the raw data from the test-run that she set up and initiated. Only a doctor can interpret that data. Overland argued that Lazarus is not getting the opportunity to confront the technician who did the actual manual testing on the stand; the prosecution is not calling her, creating a foundation for Dr. Westhoff's testimony.)

After the second afternoon break the prosecution called Wendy Hall, LAPD forensic latent print specialist in the SID for 28 years. DDA Nunez presents the witness. She analyzed some of the latent prints collected at the scene. She input at least one of the unidentified prints collected at the scene into the Automated Fingerprint Information System, AFIS. There are only two latent prints collected at the crime scene that remain unidentified. One is a palm print and the other is a finger joint print. None of these prints match the defendant.

The next witness is Daniel Rubin, LAPD firearms criminalist for 21 years in SID. DDA Presby presents the witness. The first thing I thought when he testified was, this witness must be from Brooklyn, New York because of his noticeable accent. Rubin also went on the trip to the Federal manufacturing plant with DDA Presby and Detective Stearns.

Rubin testified about the Smith & Wesson Model 49, Model 38 and Model 649 and their similarities. Photos of them show that the frame shape of the 49 and 649 are exactly alike. The differences have to do with they type of steel they are made from. In the Model 38, the handle grip is slightly different but in all other measurements it is exactly like the 49 and 649. Rubin also examined the bullets recovered from Rasmussen by the coroner.

Rubin performed a visual as well as microscopic examination of the bullets. The misshapen bullet weighed 119. grams and the other 124. grams. A gram is one thousandths of a pound. Both bullets are semi-jacketed soft point bullets. The inner core of the bullets is lead and around that, a copper "cup" around the lower portion of the core. Because the copper "cup" doesn't completely cover the lead core, it's called "semi-jacketed".

Rubin counted the lands and groves. There were five lands and groves with a right-hand twist. Because they had lands and groves this indicated they had been fired through a barrel. Through the microscope he determined that the bullets were fired from the same weapon. Each firearm has it's own unique tool markings. In firearm analysis, it is possible to tie bullet to a specific weapon, but this may not be possible in all situations. If he had the gun, Rubin testifies that he could tell if those bullets had been fired from the weapon.

Rubin has performed may, many thousands of these type of comparisons. Its a well known procedure in his field of criminalistics. Rubin received some Federal 38J Plus P bullets to compare to the fired bullets. He received this ammunition from a co-worker, Richard Smith, whom he has known for 20 years. Rubin has brought a model with him to court. It's a big plastic model of a bullet where the various parts come apart. He shares this model with the jurors. Rubin goes into great detail about the manufacturing of the bullets, the cartridges what "Plus P means", "jacket crimp" and how the jacket crimp is unique to different manufacturers and various types of bullets. The jacket crimp on the Federal bullets is in the shape of a "hoof", and he's never seen that hoof shape on anything but a Federal bullet.

Rubin answered question after question after question about his analysis and comparison

From all of his analysis, Rubin states that the bullets that killed Rasmussen were Federal issue, 38J Plus P 125. grain. He took various photos through a microscope that are called micrograph's to document how the various features of the bullets compared to the Federal 38J Plus P bullets. It's obvious in the photos they are the same. Rubin also showed bullets from other manufacturers, Winchester, Remington and Speer. Looking at the enlarged images of the other manufacturer's bullets, it was obvious the bullets that came out of Rasmussen were Federal.

Rubin also returned to 7100 Balboa Unit 205 and performed new trajectory tests using a laser ans string. (The bullet hole in the drain pipe of the other building was still there!) Photos of his testing are shown to the jury. For the lower bullet hole, from the drain pipe location to the bullet hole in the curtain to it's west most terminus was a wall in the kitchen. The slope of the downward angle of the trajectory was 9 degrees. Rubin testifies that the bullet was fired somewhere between the wall of the kitchen and the window. As the gun moved from the wall to the window, it would get closer to the floor.

After direct ends Overland asks when Rubin first became involved in the case. June 1st, 2009. Determining the lands and groves on a bullet will depend on the quality of the bullet.

As Rubin testifies, I note that Lazarus still wears her wedding band.

Overland asks Rubin if he knows how many of that particular bullet were sold. Rubin doesn't have that information. Overland asks for the details on what types of weapons could have fired that bullet. It's a long list. Overland puts up on the screen a page from his report and it's listed with many different firearms.

MO: Dies it reflect some of the firearms that could have fired (the bullets)?

DR: Based on the general rifling characteristics, yes.

MO: Does it reflect (the list of weapons) the guns that could have been used to fire evidence item 42A (bullet recovered from Rasmussen).

DR: No, that is not accurate.

Rubin put in search criteria into a data base. 38 and 357 or 9MM as the weapon. The right twist and the number of lands and groves were within a (millimeter?) range. The print out was of known firearms within that range. Of that list, Rubin felt there were four manufacturers that produced weapons that existed in 1980's. Each of those four manufacturers produced several different weapons that could fire the Federal ammunition.

Rubin is asked about each of those gun manufacturers, and if he knew how many weapons they made.

DR: I don't know the manufacturing records, but it would be a lot.

Then Judge Perry called the plug on the cross examination and we will pick it up tomorrow with this witness.

Nunez and Presby informed Judge Perry that they have two more witnesses after Rubin for Friday, and then they will rest their case. If the prosecution finishes on Friday, then it is expected that Mark Overland will start his case on Monday.

I apologize for not being able to keep up the more detailed notes of the trial at this point. My body isn't holding up. A week ago, somehow I pulled a rib head out (possibly from writing so much; it's on my left side and I'm a leftie) where the rib rests against the spinal facets, somewhere around T6 or T7. It's painful and makes sitting in court a bit more uncomfortable. I'll try to work on it myself (lie on a tennis ball) this weekend, or get Mr. Sprocket to work on it. Sprocket.


NancyB said...

Hi Sprocket,

In your entry dated Feb. 7th you wrote: "They looked at the robe (?) used to muffle the gun, only made by a revolver. The stolen marriage certificate. The writings in Lazarus' journal. Lazarus showing up at Sherri's work." This article included your descriptions of the prosecution's opening statements. So SP must have mentioned the marriage certificate.

I also wanted to thank you so much for your detailed response to my questions. Your answers were so helpful to me.

Anonymous said...

How long has the defense said their case will take to present?

NancyB said...

I see what you are saying about no witness testifying about the marriage certificate and agree with you that it's not clear whether it went missing or not. You are right.

Francaise Canadien said...

Thanks for mores sketches.

LS said...

i am not a trail expert.haven't seen judge Perry but how you explain it it sure seems that Judge Perry is No Nonsense guy- could he think that OVerland is full of it.. seems to have no patience for him--

SL is a former classmate of mine so this trail is very interesting to me- i hope for her family sake that she really didn't do it- but it sure seems to be adding up to that she did..Eeek!

TS said...

Kudos to Thomas for excellent sketches! I was in the courtroom for a couple days and the sketches are spot on. The sketches added to the superb blog content....I think the two of you should be a paid team for one of the media outlets!

Anonymous said...

What do you think, will Stephanie Lazarus take the stand?

TS said...

Is court scheduled for tomorrow, Friday (February 24), 8:30 a.m.? If so, defense witnesses will continue on the stand? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Forget Dateline, Go Sprocket!! Great job!!

Sprocket said...

Nancy B:
I don't know why we have not heard testimony about the marriage certificate. I hope it's cleared up at some point.

Anon @ 11:16 AM:
I do not know how long the defense case will be.

Judge Perry has interrupted the questioning of the prosecution team as well as Overland. He likes to keep the trial going forward and doesn't matter who is asking the questions, if Judge Perry wants to take over the questioning he does. I really enjoy watching him. It's refreshing.

Anon @ 6:29 PM:
Defendants can surprise you, but I would not make any kind of guess as to whether or not Lazarus will take the stand.

Yes, court is scheduled for tomorrow. The prosecution still has a few witnesses left they are going to try to finish with by Friday.

Thank you for your kind words everyone. I'm hoping Thomas can make it to court tomorrow. He has another gig in the morning.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sprocket. I check your blog nightly. One request I would make. If Thomas has the opportunity could he sketch DDA Shannon Presby? I think he is an excellent trial attorney and would love to see a sketch of his face.

Anonymous said...

appreciate your dedication to play-by-play coverage; seems your intrigue with high $ defense atty "MO" is growing - too bad, but good journalists stay objective...hope mr. sprocket can help you with that back, thanks

Sprocket said...

Anon @ 9:49 PM
Thomas sketches who he can see. It's up to him who he wants to draw, not me. Since he is a member of the general public, he only gets to sit in the back row. Still, he's doing a wonderful job from where he's sitting.

Anon @ 2:23 AM
I'm sorry. I honestly am not understanding what you mean, or are interpreting my coverage by the words "intrigue with high $ defense atty "MO" is growing".

I write what I see and experience, trying my best to report in an unbiased manner.

Please remember that I do not have an editor like everyone in the mainstream media does, who are providing way less coverage than I do.

Anonymous said...

I seriously doubt that Lazarus will take the stand. In essence, she already has. She's on video saying she didn't do it. Though she doe not come across as believable, she's professed her 'innocence.' The defense won't let her get on the witness stand and get as flustered as she did in the video. On continuous questioning, she doesn't appear to have the wherewithal to keep her wits about her.

Sophie said...

Dear Sprocket,
Hope you feel better soon!
The anxiety, stress and adreneline in the court room I'm sure adds to your injury.
Take lots of C (ester or buffered, of course).
And, as always, thanks for your hard work. I'm really enjoying your coverage and telling folks about the trial and your site.

Anonymous said...

I SWEAR I check this blog a hundred times a day!!! Wouldn't it be GREAT if John Ruetten takes the stand as the LAST prosecution witness & advises that the ONLY thing taken from the scene was the Marriage License & the BMW he bought Sherry? Feel better sweetie! I will pray for your pain to go away!! xoxoxo