Thursday, February 16, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 8


Yesterday, February 15th

Professional courtroom sketch artist Mona Shafer Edwards was in the courtroom sitting to my left yesterday. I got to watch her work and enjoy the fumes of her markers.

At the end of the day, the news goes around the various journalists that Mark Overland’s wife is in the gallery sitting in the front row next to Lazarus’ brother, Steven Lazarus. I don’t see her until court is over and we are all exiting.

She’s a tiny woman with a society bearing and air about her. She’s impeccably dressed wearing a red coat. Her makeup is perfect and mid-neck length blond hair is styled out a bit and not a single strand out of place. Investigation Discovery’s Pat LaLama introduces herself to Mrs. Overland as she exits the courtroom. This is the big difference between me and a seasoned journalist. I’m exceptionally shy and still have powder burns from my experiences covering the Spector trials.

My new hobby is to collect business cards from the people I meet. If you read T&T please do not hesitate to stop by an introduce yourself.

An aspiring sketch artist, Thomas B, reads T&T and has been in the courtroom two times sketching the attorneys, witnesses and Judge Perry in the bench from the back row. They are incredibly good and he has agreed to let T&T publish his work free of charge. As soon as he sends his work to me I’ll put them up on the blog.

I’ve noticed that DDA Paul Nunez (when he’s not pacing in the well or leaning against the jury box) occasionally has a nervous habit while he’s sitting at the prosecution table. With his elbow on the arm of his chair and the palm of his hand resting on his face, he taps his fingers on his face.

Today, John Ruetten will retake the stand under cross. I do not know who the next upcoming witnesses are.

9:59 AM
We are on an early morning break. John Ruetten is still under cross but did state that he doesn't have much more. Ruetten has been under relentless, repeated questioning about his memory of what he did the morning of the murder, what he did when he came home, what he thought when he saw the broken glass in the driveway, was he worried about his wife if she was ill or not, did he bring the dry cleaning in and sit it on a chair, or drop it on the floor, as well as what he specifically said in interviews with detectives back in 1986. For most of the questions, Ruetten did not have a specific memory of things he did or what he said in 1986.

Overland wants to present a (video? audio tape?) that he is not sure the prosecution has seen yet. I believe that's what I heard.

10:58 AM
We are taking an early lunch because the prosecution doesn't have any more morning witnesses.
After Ruetten, we heard from two friends of his he's known since his days at UCLA.

David Neuman lived in Dykstra Hall and was Ruetten's roommate there one year and also a year later off campus. Saw Ruetten and Lazarus interact during that time. "I would say she wad romantic feelings for him; he did not feel the same," Neuman testified. Neuman specifically remembers one conversation with Stephanie where Lazarus states there was a limitation in her relationship with Ruetten. She described the relation to him as "they were buddies." Neuman went onto say, "It was her way of acknowledging that was as far as it would go on his end."

He attended Ruetten and Rasmussen's wedding and described them as "extremely happy; delightful." Under cross examination, Overland asked if Ruetten had ever told him he had had sexual intercourse with Lazarus 20 to 30 times. Neuman relplied, "No."

Matthew Gorder was called next. He has known Ruetten since the seventh grade. Attended several schools together, including UCLA. He also knew Lazarus there at the same time. When asked about Ruetten and Lazarus' relationship that he observed at UCLA, Gorder responds, "They were close friends. They did spend some time gether but as far as I could see, it was a platonic relationship." He never saw Lazarus and Ruetten together after college.

Gorder was in Ruetten and Rasmussen's wedding and states, "They were very happy, excited." Gorder saw the couple on February 15th, 1986, at his sister's wedding. He sat with them at the same table. He observed them interact. "They looked like newlyweds and a very loving couple." In all the times he knew Ruetten, Rasmussen and Lazarus, he never saw the three of them together. In cross, Overland asks Gorder the same question to Neuman if he had any knowledge about the 20 to 30 sexual encounters. Gorder responds, "No."

Court resumes at 12:30 PM.

12:20 PM
During redirect examination DDA Shannon Presby, in a loud commanding voice asked Ruetten "Mr. Ruetten, did you kill your wife because you wanted the condo?" "That's ridiculous," he replied. "No."

We might be getting detectives in the afternoon session.

1:45 PM
We are on a break. Kevin Becker testified about the search of Lazarus' residence on June 5th, 2012. Gregory Stearns, Robbery-Homicide Detective is on the stand testifying about the journal located at Lazarus' home as well as her work records.

2:41 PM
A juror started coughing so Judge Perry called a break. Detective Stearns is now under cross examination. Overland started off asking him if he was present when all of Lazarus' work/duty records were created. A few questions about where he worked in 1983 but all those questions were objected to and sustained. Overland is now questioning about other entries in the journal (that he is now referring to as a "work log") where other Ruetten family members are mentioned. Judge Perry states those are fair game, allowed to be entered into testimony. Detective Stearns will read those once break is over.

5:40 PM
My friend Katie is giving me a ride home and I’m writing as she drives, trying to take advantage of every moment. Detective Stearns appeared very serious when he was testifying. He never came close to a smile once. His demeanor kept reminding me how serious this trial is for everyone involved. A vibrant, beautiful woman brutally murdered only a few months into her new marriage. A respected and decorated detective, accused of the worst crime, premeditated murder. It’s not just these two individuals who have been affected, but numerous friends and family on both sides of the table.

After Detective Stearns left the stand, Jayne Weaver, retired LAPD officer who attended the LAPD CPA (program to get women in shape to join the force) and academy program with Lazarus. I saw Lazarus briefly look up at the witness when Weaver identified her for the record and then looked back down at the defense table.

From sometime in 1985 to 1987, she worked with Lazarus at the Devonshire Division. During that time, Weaver remembers that Lazarus showed her a kit that Lazarus identified as a lock-picking tool kit and that Lazarus had been trained in how to use the tools.

Weaver could not remember the specific date or even a time frame for this event. All she remembers was that it probably occurred in the women’s locker room at Devonshire Division. When asked if she had any animosity or hatred towards the defendant, Weaver answered “No. I care about Stephanie.”

Under cross examination Weaver testified that on February 27th, 28th and March 1st, 1986, (days they both worked the same shift and two of those days where they rode in the same patrol car), she could not recall seeing any injuries on Lazarus.

During the morning session, I saw the stunningly beautiful DDA Deborah Brazil, co-prosecutor on the Conrad Murray case, sitting in the back row near the door. Apparently, she’s dropped into Department 104 at least one other time.

Early this morning when I was in the long line to get through first floor security, Lazarus’ husband, Scott Young was several people in line ahead of me. He appeared to be looking at someone who had just cleared the security station when I heard him say, “Go ahead Mom, I’ll meet you upstairs.” Lazarus’ mother has been in the courtroom everyday. I’ve also seen an older woman with short gray hair in a pixie cut sitting with other Lazarus family members. This could possibly be Young’s mother. Every day, Young is there as well as her brother Steven and mother Carol. There are usually other family members as well, but I don’t know who they are. The Rasmussen family (Nels, Loretta, Teresa and Connie) sit behind me. They also have had other friends join them in court from time to time.

As I saw the jurors file in today, one male juror was carrying what looked like two pink bakery boxes.

One of the things that was interesting in the cross examination of Ruetten was Overland put up a Google map outlining the locations of the condo, his work, the cleaners, the bank and the UPS store (where he picked up shoes he ordered on the way home) and marker outlining a route linking all these locations. It was not clear to me where Overland was going in asking Ruetten about the route he took to work and back home on the day of Rasmussen’s murder.

A few other little observational tidbits. When Overland is crossing a witness, DDA Nunez will sometimes turn his chair sideways to watch him. Occasionally, I’ve seen DDA Nunez get a perplexed expression on his face while watching Overlands’ cross. At one point in Ruetten’s cross, Nunez was twirling his pen between his fingers, much like a baton twirler. He also got his pen to spin on it’s side on top of his first finger knuckle and thumb. I was totally fascinated as to how he was accomplishing this dextrous top-like spinning feat.

I’m always looking around to see if there are new people in the gallery. There was a striking redhead in the gallery yesterday and today, wearing a bright canary-yellow peacoat. Everyone wondered who she was. When I rode down in the elevator yesterday after court I asked her if she was with someone (thinking she was with a news organization) and she replied, “Yes,” but never said anything beyond that. She deflected my question by quickly asking if I was “Sprocket”.


CatToy said...

Thank you so much Betsy! You are doing a super job as Always!!

Huge Hugs; enjoy the three day weekend!

Utah Chris said...

Thanks Sprocket - I finally had a chance to watch the video in full this morning and a few things I wasn't aware of popped out at me. This is powerful stuff and I'm confused why the whole video wouldn't be admissible or rather what specific portions were not admissible.

9:10 - she "thought" she was a nurse, yet throughout the video, clearly she "knew" more than she let on.

13:20 - this is the first I've heard she was a photography "nut" as she described herself. I wonder if any of her own photo's were logged into evidence. Specifically, the BMW or the crime scene or area. Several times the car was discussed in the video and she had no apparent knowledge of the BMW.

16:50 - there is a general discussion about how John met her in Hawaii and I had the distinct impression this was a planned meeting, yet elsewhere in the video it is described as happenstance.

27:40 - this is the first reference I've heard where Lazarus has described John as a two-timer and the theme of why he is bothering Lazarus when he is married. I think now I know where the defense is going with their line of questions regarding the number of sexual encounters. They are painting John as not to be trusted and therefore, the implied benefactor of the murder.

37:55 - references to drugs and cocaine by the victim?

42:20 - reference to John sneaking around with Lazarus.

45:10 - first reference I've heard about her admiting she visited Sheeri at the hospital.... did I understand that right?

55:00 - photography nut reference

1:01:20 - I had the distinct impression she knew the detectives knew she fought with Sheeri physically.

Who was in the room sitting silently through the end of the interview? You can hear them sigh and whisper in the last few minutes?

Diane said...

It's Diane from WA state, having been around since the Casey (Anthony) case. Was pretty disgusted w/that.

Anyway, during Casey's trial I started looking at your other cases & got interested in the Lazarus case. I watched her interrogation, read a lot of the background and now I'm BACK for the play-by-play. THANKS.. and good work.

Anonymous said...

Ditto on the great job of covering this sad but intriguing case.
Read Mr.McGough's article in the Atlantic, been following your trail ever since.
So grateful for your time and effort.

Sprocket said...

Thank you everyone for you kind words about this labor of love.

Utah Chris,
Ruetten learned through friends that she was going to be in Hawaii with a male friend. They did not make plans on being in Hawaii together.

We have heard testimony already that Lazarus visited Sherri at the hospital once. We have not heard about any other visits, since there is no one to testify about that who witnessed it.

Thousands of photographs were taken into evidence when Lazarus' house was searched.

I believe the two lead detectives, Jamarillo and Stearns were in the interview room. We will find out when the video is introduced.

I've not watched the entire video (no time) so I can't comment on some of the things you are asking about.

black beauty said...

I was in court yesterday and they never asked John R. what was missing from the apt other than the BMW...I thought that I had heard their marriage certificate was taken. Can you elaborate on that? Thanks for your hard work.

Sprocket said...

black beauty:
At this point it's an unknown.

There are several possible answers.

1. The MSM got it wrong, and reported it taken when it wasn't.

2. There was some reason why it was not specifically asked of Ruetten that we are unaware of at this time.

3. Ruetten did not remember that it was taken.

Crickit said...

What a day in court!

Stephanie went to the same high school as I did. She graduated 2 years ahead of me. She played basketball in high school also. She was popular and well liked.

When I first saw the news coverage of her arrest in this case, of course I was very intrigued. I have been following this case since the news of her arrest.

Looking forward to your detailed notes! Thanks again for your coverage by being the eyes and ears for those of us who can't be in the courtroom.

Jayne Weiandt said...

My family knows the Rasmussens very well as my family went to church with them and myself and my sisters went to school with their girls. Sherri was a wonderful girl and my heart is broken about her death. I have been following your coverage on this case and I love your style of writing and your dedication.
I was wondering if John is or has been asked if Sherri told him about being stalked and I believe I read somewhere that Lazarus had showed up in their Condo and Sherri told her to get out!
Jayne E.

Anonymous said...

The prosecutor asked John Ruetten: "Mr. Ruetten, Did you kill your wife because you wanted the condo?"

The prosecution figures some jurors might suspect John Ruetten. Or, the defense will ask the question. So they preempted them by asking the question themselves.

David In TN

Sprocket said...

Any information about the possible stalking would be hearsay. John can't testify about the stalking since that would be hearsay.

Since Lazarus herself admits to going to see Rasmussen once in the jail interview, that incident can come into trial. All the other incidents can't come in because there is no one to be able to give first-hand knowledge about them, that observed the stalking.

The prosecution asked about the condo during redirect. The defense had asked in cross about the condo and when it was transferred into John and Sherri's name. If I recall correctly without digging through my notes, the defense also asked on cross if Ruetten, when he sold the condo, gave any of the money from the sale to Nels Rasmussen.