Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Opening Statements, Part III (Defense)

Opening Statements, Part II (Prosecution)

This is an unedited draft entry. It may be some time before I can fully edit it. Sprocket.

February 6th, 2012
Defense Opening Statement

The podium has been moved over closer to the defense table. Overland is standing at the podium and tells the jury, “It’s my turn. I get the privilege to talk to you three times during the trial. The first was at voir dire. The next two times will just be me talking.” Overland continues. I want to talk to you now about predicting what (?) the evidence may (show?). It may turn out not exactly what (the prosecution states?). It may turn out (different?) than what they say. (Witnesses) now giving you an eye view of what they remember, what they tell you and what the judge will allow in. (It?) all comes in under a rubric under this case. And the evidence that isn’t presented, the absence of evidence, sometimes that’s just as critical. (When Overland says this, I’m reminded of a well known phrase in forensic science I learned at the first Spector trial: The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.)

All the evidence happened many, many years ago. They will be talking about events that happened before that (time?). Background evidence.

Overland now gives the jury a narrative history of Lazarus’ employment life with the LAPD from the time she graduated from UCLA.

Stephanie Lazarus was 18 years old in 1978. She was a freshman at UCLA and graduated in 1982. (He doesn’t tell the jury what her degree was in.) She was a likable student and had many friends. She played on the junior varsity team and loved and played in sports. She lived in Dykstra Hall and met a number of people there that became friends.

She met John Ruetten, one of many people, and had a close relationship with him. During the last year and after graduation they became more than close and took trips together and became sexually intimate many, many times.

Next comes a long history of Lazarus’ work with the LAPD. She entered the LAPD through the department’s CPA (CDA?) program, which got women physically adapted to police work. She went to the academy and graduated.

Overland goes off on a tangent for a moment and tells the jurors a “side thing here”. Even though he’s going into detail, but not all the details from the case, just significant portions of it.

Lazarus graduated from the police academy in September 1983. Her first assignment was Hollywood Division patrol. From ’83 to ’88 she then worked in the Devonshire Division.

’88-'92, Lazarus worked in the DARE Division, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a program of LAPD that taught kids in classes about drugs. Through the DARE program she met her current husband, Scott Young. Lazarus also has a five-year-old daughter, Sidney (sp? Sydney?).

From ’92 to ’94, Lazarus worked in the personnel department doing background checks to see if detectives were suitable candidates for a position with LAPD.

In March 1994, she was assigned to Investigation Analysis Division, and promoted to Detective I. It was a big deal at the time. A coveted assignment.

From March 1996, to August 1997, Lazarus worked in Internal Affairs, and arm of (?), that investigates corruption in the police department. Police who investigate other police. She worked there 1.5 years.

In 1996, she was promoted to Detective II, unusual for a woman. In 1997 until May 2007, she was assigned to the Valley (Division?) as a supervisor of other detectives.

In 2007 until June of 2009 she was assigned to another (?), the Art Theft Detail, that investigates the theft of valuable paintings and art.

During her 26 years in the LAPD, she received commendation after commendation. Overland then reads some of the statements in Lazarus’ personnel file. “Tremendous asset to our team.” “She is honest in her character and her work is outstanding.” She received these comments not just from her supervisors but from (the general public?). In 1993, recognized as an outstanding detective.

On June 5th, 2009, she was arrested and charged for the crime she is now standing trial for. Now, you’ve heard the prosecution’s theory, (that Sherri Rasmussen) was killed because of a jealous obsession with John Ruetten and because of the November 185 marriage of John Ruetten and Sherri Rasmussen.

Some of the evidence and photos and testimony of witnesses, in support of that theory (that you will hear; 60 to 70 witnesses) in this case, neither side (own?) witnesses, they’re going to tell you about things they say they remember.

One fact is 100% clear. I’m going out on a limb here. There were no eye witnesses to the killing of Sherri Rasmussen.

All of the evidence you will hear, you will have to decide who killed Sherri Rasmussen, you will have to conclude who it was.

Overland then goes into a detailed description of Lyle Meyers thought process and why he thought the case was an interrupted burglary. He talked about the other detectives who worked on the case with Meyer, Steven Hooks and Rodger Peabeck (sp?), so the jury can “get some idea who they all are. Based on their investigation and experience and presence at the autopsy, (Mayer) concluded they (burglars) entered through an unlocked condo to steal.”

Overland states the only valuable items in the condo was the stereo equipment. Not jewelry, nothing else. Those were the only valuable items. Sherri Rasmussen must have surprised the burglars. During the surprise encounter two shorts were fired from an unknown handgun. Bullets that were fired went through a sliding glass window, the kitchen sliding glass door. No bullets were recovered. Detectives also concluded that Sherri Rae Rasmussen was six feet tall and 150 pounds. At one point during the encounter, (there was) a violent struggle with assailant. The struggle lasted for some time. “And some how, Ms. Rasmussen was bitten on the left forearm. That’s what it appeared to them to be. They concluded that the struggle continued into the living room area where she was shot several times. The photos will establish a violent, physical struggle. The physical evidence that was collect is important.”

Overland lists the evidence that was collected. Fingerprints, blood evidence, white cord, speaker wire, fingernails, blood from the walls, items of clothing, the bullets. Twenty-eight items, including two bullets.

Some of the witnesses are going to talk about, witnesses that will testify as experts, they will give opinions about evidence. Give opinion as to the meaning. That’s based on background, learning. Mayer and Hooks, (they will) talk about what they did. They looked at similar crimes in the neighborhood. They looked at similar crimes in the neighborhood.

On April 11th, 1986, Mayer went to a condo 5840 Balboa Unit 502 complex, similar to 7100 Balboa. A security gate, a garage, with stairs leading up to a condo. There was a burglary at this condo also. A lady by the name of Lisa Rivalli will describe what happened. Stereo equipment was stacked up and what she will say was there were two suspects.

Lazarus stares at the defense table. I don’t think I’ve seen her look over at the jury once.

One suspect pointed what Rivalli thought was a 38 caliber revolver at her. She believed if she hadn’t run out (of her condo) she would have been shot. She came home from the store and surprised them in her home. She ran. She assisted in a composite drawing. Overland puts up the sketches of the two men. That’s when Mayer sent out the bulletin about the burglary. The suspects were never caught.

Overland moves onto the relationship between Lazarus and John Ruetten and that Ruetten was questioned a total of eight times by police during the two investigations. “That relationship was a bit more than what the prosecution told you. (snip) You will learn that from John Ruetten himself it was also (a relationship) with John’s brother and John Ruetten’s mother, who is deceased. There was a relationship with the family.”

It was not just obsession; (romance?) of one sided unrequited love. They got together. They had sex twenty to thirty times during their relationship, so not just a one-sided relationship. Stephanie Lazarus did (love?) him. (She?) did think they had a future and there was a basis for that, but she wasn’t obsessed.

In June or August 1985, before John Ruetten married Sherri Rasmussen, Stephanie called John Ruetten and asked to see him. This was maybe the last chance, (and Stephanie thought?) I better tell him how I feel. She was not tearful; not out of control.

John Ruetten drove over to Stephanie Lazarus’ condo. He was engaged at the time and he did not tell Sherri Rasmussen he was going over there and the two of them ended up having sexual intercourse.

John did tell Stephanie Lazarus that he was moving on with his life. The encounter lasted 1.5 hours. He did not tell Sherri Rasmussen, she found out! Because after that encounter, Stephanie Lazarus went to visit Sherri Rasmussen at the hospital (her work) and told her, “Hey, he’s dating you, you better tell him to stop calling me. Tell him to knock it off.” That encounter did not make a happy engagement. Sherri told John that Stephanie Lazarus had visited her. John Ruetten then confessed that he had sex with Lazarus before the wedding.

The morning of February 24th, 1986, John got up. But at the last minute, Sherri Rasmussen had not told him before, that she was not going to work It was a last minute decision.

You are going to hear evidence records that, that same day Stephanie Lazarus was off work. She was off work as a T.O., ‘time off’. It’s not something you get at the last minute. You don’t get that at the last minute. Lazarus had the Monday before that Monday off and the Monday after that Monday off.

John Ruetten let for work at 7:20 am. His work was a 20 minute drive from the condo, and that will be important at trial. Records will also show the day after February 24th, 1986, Stephanie Lazarus went to work as usual. Her partner that day, he can remember no injuries at all on Stephanie when she went back to work.

What about this obsession? How was the obsession carried out after February 24th, 1986. Evidence will show that after February 24th, 1986, now that Ms. Rasmussen was out of the way, Stephanie Lazarus did nothing to pursue John Ruetten. She never called, wrote, or contacted him. On the contrary. It was John Ruetten who initiated each and every contact.

They met in Hawaii in July 1989. Ruetten had gone to visit friends and somehow found out Stephanie Lazarus was there with a male friend and John Ruetten called her. Years later he happened to be in Los Angeles. He called Stephanie when he was in LA. At no time, did Stephanie Lazarus contact John Ruetten. So why was she arrested and charged with a crime?

On January 27th, 2005, an analyst from the police department opened two envelopes, one inside the other and analyzed what was inside that envelope. For the answer, you have to go back to February 24th, 1986. An investigator by the name of Lloyd Mahaney. You’re going to hear his testimony here in court, what he thinks was inside that envelope but you will have to decide what’s in that envelope. Mahaney’s preliminary hearing testimony will be heard here.

Who is Mahaney? A criminalist who worked in the coroner’s office in February 24th, 1986. When Rasmussen was killed, he was assigned to go to 7100 Balboa Blvd. to gather evidence of the killing and he did. He collected from Ms. Rasmussen’s body and clothing, fibers, hair, hairs from the neck and right hand. He also collected what the prosecution has made the centerpiece of theri investigation, what looked like to be a bite mark.

You’re going to hear about chain of custody. Just means that rigid procedures are employed to make sure that when a criminalist collects evidence and it is later analyzed, it is actually collected at the scene. So, chain of custody ensure that what was recovered at the scene was analyzed later. You’ll hear that occasionally the chain of custody is not that important.

(The bite mark swab) was collected on February 26th, 1986 (I believe that’s wrong; it was collected in the early morning hours at the scene.), and analyzed January 27th, 2005, almost 20 years later.

Then the chain of custody becomes important. Because it’s important, they (Coroner’s Office) developed procedures that chain of custody has been maintained. Overland then puts a document on the overhead. It’s the official Forensic Lab Division of Coroner’s 1987 (directive?) Manual in effect in 1986. This is as far back as they can go. (They could not find the policy manual for 1986.) “What does it say about chain of custody? 148 page manual. Third paragraph. In order for physical evidence to be of value, it must be received, properly, handled, properly maintained, or it is of no value.”

I note it’s 10:49 AM. Overland goes over more of the manual. He shows the jury how evidence tape seals envelopes, and that on the bright red tape it says, “Warning, evidence. Do not tamper.” Overland goes over Lloyd Mahaney’s testimony from the preliminary hearing in December 2009. Judge Perry watches the jurors. (I notice that journalist Pat LaLama sitting next to me is a fellow lefty.) Overland explains kits and swabs. He tells the jury that Lloyd Mahaney had an extra swab from a kit that was not from the coroner’s kit.

(I’m puzzled by this statement and can’t imagine that’s true. Is Overland implying that to take this sample, Mahaney did not use a swab tube that was approved by the coroner’s office to collect evidence?)

Then Overland goes over Mahaney’s testimony where sometimes he said “swab” and sometimes he said, “swabs.” During the hearing, Mr. Mahaney was asked questions by the prosecutor, that he had no independent memory of taking a swab in this case. If you go back to his notes, he’s talking about one swab or two swabs. Overland puts a document Mahaney completed, his lab notes report dated March 4th, 1986. Overland is attacking inconsistencies in Mahaney’s report. Sometimes he said swab. Sometimes he said fiber or fibers. (My hand starts to cramp.) Overland continues to attack the “chain of custody”. He’s saying the log card of the corner’s will be very important. Now describes the purpose of the log card. Not many jurors take notes.

(I look at the clock again. Is it really only 11:00 AM and not noon? I feel like I’ve been here forever.)

Overland is still going over the coroner’s evidence log with the jurors. There’s no entry on the log that evidence was released. (You) will have to determine what that means. Now Overland is talking about where the sample went to (investigate? within the) lab.

Overland switches topics completely to something completely different. The later investigation and who is looking for the evidence in the coroner’s office and that they couldn’t find the bite mark swab evidence. Wasn’t until December 30th, 2004 that they found it. “But there was a problem when it was finally found.” Overland misspeaks and Judge Perry corrects him. Dan Anderson, a supervisor criminalist said, “We have a problem.” What was that problem? Overland puts up a photo of the evidence envelope that contains the bite mark swab.

This is the first time that I get to see an image of that envelope. It’s well worn. You can hardly read any writing on the envelope. In the top right corner of the image, there is a portion of the envelope that has tears, and the flaps are folded back on the tears. You can see the top of the vial inside through the folded back tears. Overland states, “The tube itself is not sealed. You could unscrew it.” (I don’t believe criminalists actually put evidence tape on the tubes to ‘seal’ them at any time but we will have to wait and see in testimony.) “But you can see, it was a definite tear that someone tore that envelope and made it accessible.” (I personally think that’s a bold statement to make that conclusion.) Overland puts up another image, this time the back of the envelope. “The back side of the envelope, the bottom of the envelope is wide open. Dan Anderson said, “I can’t let it go out of here like that.” The bottom on the back of the envelope the seams, split open at the bottom. Anderson repackages the envelope in a new envelope. Overland shows photos of the new envelope. “This totally violates every procedure in the coroner’s office.

There’s a ten minute break. At the break, I help Pat LaLama figure out how to connect to the court’s free wifi. At 11:22 AM we go back on the record. I wonder how much longer Overland is going to speak. We’re back on the record.

Overland goes back over the search and finding of the envelope. Overland states it’s more accurate that on December 20th, there’s a conversation between Dan Anderson and ‘Francis’ to look for the evidence. They found it two days later. It sat around until it was picked up by the courier (on Dec 30th?). Anderson makes up a new log card (and makes a note on it that) the original envelope is torn. (It was) repackaged in order to release to LAPD.

The envelope was picked up by a courier on December 30th, 2004 along with 100 other items for 17 other cases. Finally, a month later, (Jennifer Francis?) gets the evidence then does analysis. “We’ll talk about DNA. What she finds is known as a mixture. The source is more than one person. That will be important during trial.”

Overland now goes into a LONG dissertation on biology, the human body and DNA. “DNA is not something where you take a sample and put it into a computer and you have a match or not. It’s a lot more complex than that. The human body is made up of cells and in the center is DNA. DNA is ina chromosome. A chromosome has genetic information.” Overland explains that chromosome is like a “very, very thin thread in the center of the cell, like a bundle in the center.” Chromosome number one is the largest. Number two is smaller and so on. The pair (?) that determines the sex is XX for women and XY for men.

Overland then goes on to try to explain the double helix. Describes it as a ladder. There’s a photo of the double helix up on the overhead screen. “Analyst looks for a combination of DNA strands. Repeat tandems, in tiny parts of the ladder.” Modern science examines thirteen or fifteen of these locations. There’s many steps in the process of DNA analysis. The first step extraction, where they break open the cells that release the DNA. Then it’s purified and concentrated. Second step is to do a visual quantification. Overland mentions a “commercially produced computerized program, PCR amplification” duplicates the DNA and makes millions of copies.”

I note that jurors don’t take any notes.

DNA, which is smaller than a grain of sugar. Then the typing. It measures the number of times a DNA sequence and finds out about these repeats. The computer program tells you the number of (partition?) sequence repeats. The repeat is called an “allele. I probably lost everybody by now, but I’ll move on. Back to the computer program. It separates the different repeats and photographs them.” There’s a photo up on the overhead screen with the word ELECTROPHERGRAM. (I probably got the spelling of that wrong.)

(The program) then compares it to the ‘known’ sample and runs it through the computer. There’s a difference between DNA to exclude or include. It occurs when tested sample at scene has a different allele at a location that the person’s sample you are testing. The DNA test for inclusion is different. Just because a known tested sample has an allele that doesn’t appear on the (?). Sometimes a sample is degraded. Sometimes an allele drops out. The result of the computerized test, just tells you that the individual is not excluded. It then gives a statistical probability of that (match).

When the science experts testify, pay attention to a couple of words. “Consistent with just means in that experts opinion it could be.” Overland moves off of DNA and talks about the firearm used to kill Sherri Rasmussen. “That photo of the firearm that the prosecution showed you. That photo of firearm was taken in 1989.” Overland talks about the bullets recovered from Sherri’s body. They are consistent with bullets from a Smith & Wesson firearm. “They are also consistent with at least thirty-seven other firearms.”

Bullets “consistent with” bullets used at the time. That does not mean “are”. Consistent with means “could be.” Millions of those bullets were manufactured at that time. The bullets in her (Lazarus) locker, the number of boxes i her locker. All the bullets were tested. Not one matched the bullets recovered from the body.

Overland moves to the blood evidence. A white rope was found at the scene, and did DNA typing. Several areas tested positive for blood. Result was, blood consistent with the blood of Sherri Rasmussen, however, Stephanie Lazarus was excluded.

Overland moves to testimony they will hear from a Greg Matheson (sp?). The blood on the robe is a type different from Rasmussen and could not come from her. (In my opinion, this statement is not accurate.)

Overland now talks about fingerprints. Evidence will be presented that fingerprints were lifted on various dates (at the scene) and from the car. Some prints are identifiable. Some prints there, as to this date have yet to be identified. There are insufficient ridges (to make a conclusion about the print). Some are close to being prints of Sherri Rasmussen. None compare to Stephanie Lazarus. (There is a) finger and palm print outside the closet door. On August 21, 2009, print specialist Andrea Dillon ran the prints through AFIS. (She) confirmed the finger and palm print did not belong to Stephanie Lazarus.

Hair samples do not belong to Stephanie Lazarus.

There was an extract (extraction?) from fingernails found at (the scene?) (An independent laboratory performed testing.) The result showed the extract from the broken nail belonged to at lest two persons, none of whom is Stephanie Lazarus.

(Investigators) obtained dental impression of Stephanie Lazarus. You will hear expert odontologist was unable to match Stephanie Lazarus to the bite mark.

At the end of the (case you will find) the prosecution has utterly failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the end of the defense opening statement.

To be continued with first witnesses.....


ritanita said...

Thanks for the latest update. I'm emptying my house out for carpet laying tomorrow and have limited time, but this is the first place I come to read.

This case is getting very little attention here.

Susan said...

Regarding Overland's statement "Stephanie Lazarus was off work. She was off work as a T.O., ‘time off’. It’s not something you get at the last minute. You don’t get that at the last minute."

From experience I can say this is completely inaccurate. T/Os were (and are) often given at the last minute. These are days that are compensation days for working overtime (court, working past end of watch, etc.) It is possible that Stephanie's T/O was scheduled a week or two in advance, or it could have been a last minute thing. I'd be surprised if there could be any testimony from a supervisor who would recall the circumstances of how she received that T/O.

Terrific coversage, thanks!!!

Becky said...

Sprocket, I thought that the fingernails did match Stephanie Lazarus? Is Overland correct when he says that they didn't? Also, is the hand print really not Sherri's or Stephanie's?

Love your reporting!!!

Sprocket said...

The fingernails. We will have to wait and see what the DNA experts testify to. Remember, opening statement is not evidence.

Anonymous said...

It seems that Overland is going with a defense of "the burglars did it" or "some other dude did it." Would criminals of any sort just abandon Sherrie Rasmussen's expensive automobile rather than take it to a chop shop?

Stephanie Lazarus was off from work on the day of the murder. She also just happened to "lose" her weapon.

Regarding DNA, Overland seems to be using Barry Scheck's method in the Simpson trial. Just try and bore the jury.

David In TN

Francaise Canadien said...