Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 2

UPDATED Feb 8th, 2012 5:20 am

February 7th, 2012

#5 STEVEN HOOKS: (Retired LAPD Detective who assisted in the 1986 investigation- under first cross)

Shortly after Mark Overland began his cross examination of retired LAPD Detective Steven Hooks, secondary detective investigating the case in 1986 and on the stand from 12 noon today, Judge Perry got visibly and verbally upset with defense attorney Mark Overland, basically humiliating him in front of the jury.

While Overland was repeatedly questioning Hooks about the crime scene evidence log, he was questioning him on the accuracy of his memory and whether or not he could confirm for the jury the accuracy of the sign in times on the log itself. Hooks responded with, "They're accurate based on the procedures in place at the time." Judge Perry (who I've been told likes to keep things moving along quickly in his courtroom) became exasperated, visibly irritated and took over the examination of the witness telling Overland, "I don't think it's important!" Later, outside the presence of the jury, Overland goes on the record objecting to the court's comments to the jury during cross. "They (Judge Perry's comments) basically hurt my client that they're not important. (snip) It's judicial bias." Judge Perry responds, "I understand your question. I stand by my comment. I was trying to clarify. I felt you were not clarifying. That's all I'm going to hear on the matter."

The rest of the afternoon reminded me of Chris Plourd during cross examination in Spector I. Everyone in the courtroom had to have felt like I did, as if we all were standing on a bed of nails. It wasn't until about fifteen minutes before the end of the court day that we had anything else interesting happen.

Overland starts to question Hooks if he investigated other burglaries that had a similar modus operandi when I believe Judge Perry asks counsel to approach. He then excuses the jurors for the day. Once the jurors had left, Judge Perry asks Overland for a proffer. "Where are you going with the investigation into other burglaries?"

Overland states that based on the prosecution's opening statement, and referring to Lyle Mayer's "myopic, closed minded investigation", I intent to present a witness who was a victim of a similar burglary."

Judge Perry responds, "I'm surprised that the prosecution did not present a motion to exclude third party culpability." The people state, "We don't believe it's relevant to the facts of the case." But Lyle Mayer is on the defense witness list and would appear to be going to offer some sort of opinion. Judge Perry states, "This is wildly distracting to the jury. (snip) We're focusing the jury on the initial investigation when it should be the latter (presented by the prosecution). The problem I have, (prosecution) sought to explain the delay in your opening statement. The reason for your delay is that DNA was not widely used at the time (1986). We started down a road that we really don't have to go to in this place. I could have had a brief (on the matter). Even though I've got to let this go on, the question I have is how far? Should I let this investigation to go on when I don't even know where it's going? I don't know what to do about this frankly. I'm troubled; (need to?) hash this out (and it wasn't). When in the court's mind it's particularly troubling."

Judge Perry states the defense as, "We think burglary, but by God, it's got to be remarkably similar. That's 1101. That should have been hammered out (before) trial, third party culpability evidence."

DDA Nunez steps up to address Judge Perry's concerns as to why this issue wasn't litigated before trial. "The very next day he (Mayer) put out a bulletin about burglary. We were not sure where he (Overland) was going with his defense. So, not knowing where he was going or how far or where, (they could not plan for every contingency).

Judge Perry tells the group he will hear arguments on this issue. He then proceeds to give them case law to ponder. People v. Addlebacker (sp?). And it appears that Judge Perry is reading from Addlebacker to them. He then brings up Alcala, the death penalty case, and gives a short description from that case. Then Judge Perry quickly leaves the bench.

There is a stark contrast in the styles of presentation between DDA Shannon Presby and Mark Overland. Shannon moved quickly through presenting his evidence today while Overland moves slowly and methodically through cross examination.

I almost forgot to add that today is Sherri Rae Rasmussen's birthday today. She would have been 55 years old.

I will have detail notes up on each day of the trial as soon as I can get to them. The courtroom was a little over half full today. It's a good bet that it won't be very full tomorrow either, but you never know how much media will show up. Court resumes at 8:30 am tomorrow. Sprocket.
UPDATE Feb. 8th, 2012 5:20 am
My sleep cycles are totally messed up and I was really dragging towards the end of the half-day of court yesterday. I put up an entry as quickly as I could before crashing. This is a short update on yesterday's proceedings. Sprocket.

Yesterday, with photo after heart-breaking crime scene photo, DDA Shannon Presby utilized retired LAPD Detective Steven Hooks to introduce evidence that would normally be introduced by the various criminalists who collected it. But both the coroner's investigator Lloyd Mahanay (who collected the bite mark evidence) and LAPD criminalist Ms. Ochiae (in 1986, the unit was called SID, Science Investigative Division) are dead. Judge Perry ruled on January 25th, that all the evidence these investigators collected can come in. The jury gets to sort it all out.

With slow methodical deliberation and pacing, Mark Overland asked question after question of Hooks what he specifically saw the investigators collect. Although Overland has every right to ask these questions in cross examination, it's possible he could lose the jury if he doesn't pick up his pace.

Judge Perry also requested motions regarding the possibly of the defense introducing evidence of "third party culpability". He also mentioned California Evidence Cod 1101. For those of you who have followed my Spector trial coverage, "1101 b" would be familiar to you. I'm not familiar with the People v. Addlebacker (Addle Backer? Addle Baker?) case Judge Perry referenced but I am familiar with People v. Alcala, a recent death penalty case that was tried in Orange County.

Like I mentioned before, the crime scene photos were heart-breaking. They show Sherri Rasmussen on her back on the living room floor, her knees pulled up, frozen in rigor mortis, her arms bent and her hands suspended near her shoulders. The few close up photos of Rasmussens's face the prosecution entered show her battered and bloody.

Court resumes today at 8:30 am.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the best trial coverage on the Internet. You're doing a great job, and I look forward to your posts every night.

NancyB said...

Your writing style is riveting and very endearing. I'm hooked! When I've read backwards on your blog I see that it was only about a year ago that the LA Superior Court bestowed you with full media status as a testament to the high quality of your trial reporting on this blog. What a great honor, Sprocket! Well deserved, of course. I'm very proud of you.

Reading back to the first time you took the train and didn't even know how to work the ticket machines :) you sure have come a long way and met so many wonderful people. I think you have a fascinating book in you!

I'm coming to see how all consuming covering a trial such as this is. It's more time involved than a full time job!

I was so sorry to learn that car was sicker than initially thought. Has Mr Sprocket got you back on the road yet?

I greatly appreciate all of your articles. Someone earlier mentioned a paucity of coverage by the LA Times, and I totally agree. Your high quality daily coverage puts you in a class of your own at this point!