Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Q & A II



Judge Perry, Lazarus, 2-12-12 by © Thomas Broersma

If you have any questions about the case and testimony so far, I will try to answer questions as best I can. Post your question in the comments section (easier than E-mail for now) and I will answer inbetween helping Mr. Sprocket on the roof of a building this weekend.

Question:
Sophie said...
Is it definite that S.L. never contacted J.R. after the murder; was all contact initiated from him only? Who performed the paid & classmate.com search on J.R.? Keep up good work, Sophie

Answer:
From all the testimony we have heard so far, it was Ruetten who initiated contact with Lazarus. Lazarus did the searches in 1998 and 1999. This information was found on various computers in the search of her home.

Question:
Summer said...
Thank you so much for your trial coverage! I've been following since I saw this case on 48 Hours Mystery last year and I read your updates daily.

My question is: On 48 Hours, Mark Overland stated that the vial containing the dna swab from the bite mark was fully protruding from the envelope and that the vial was no longer sealed. From the testimony it seems that the envelope was torn but the vial wasn't protruding out, and I don't remember reading anything indicating it wasn't sealed. Can you summarize the testimony on this issue? Thanks in advance! Summer

Answer:
We do not have an image of the envelope when it was first discovered in the Coroner's Office property/evidence room on December 22, 2004. All we have is a photo of the envelope that was taken before the December 2009 preliminary hearing.

The custodian who found the envelope said she could see the red cap. She could not say that the envelope looked exactly like the 2009 image when she found it. I will have to look at my notes to see what Supervisor Dan Anderson said, when he repackaged it. LAPD DNA Analyst Jennifer Francis testified she "believes" she made the hole bigger when she took the swab vial out of the envelope. (I an working on Day 4's testimony where Anderson and the custodian testified.) If I recall correctly, Francis testified that she did not observe that the envelope was open at the bottom. She said if it was, she would written that in her notes. This would make sense for why would she have taken the vial out of the envelope through the hole? Why not slide it out through the open bottom? She stated that she returned the vial to the envelope through that hole. The reason that she did all that because she was told the envelope itself may become an item of evidence itself and they wanted to try not to do any more damage to it.

The cap. We've had witnesses testify that the cap screws onto the top of the "swoob tube". We have not had a witness testify that there should have been evidence tape on the top of the tube cap, sealing it to the tube.

So to answer your question, it's unknown (as far as I can see) if the tube was actually sticking out of the envelope or not. With Francis' testimony that she had to make the hole bigger to get the tube out, contradicts the "sticking out of the envelope" statement in my mind. It may have been; it may not have been.

Question:
Annette said...
I appreciate you keeping those of us who can't be at the trial updated on it.

As I have never followed a "Blog" before, what does "(snip)" indicate? You mentioned Connie being present, then that you mis-identified someone else as Connie. Has Connie been present for any of the trial? Keep up the good work.

Answer:
"Snip" means, I've missed dialog. There are statements or parts of statements that I missed writing down where the "snip" is.

The woman I thought was Rasmussen's sister Connie, is Jayne Goldberg, the woman who was Rasmussen's roommate before Ruetten. I do not know if Connie was at the trial on opening statements. She might have been, but I don't believe so.

Question:
Susan said...
Did you see/hear any out-of-courtroom or in-courtroom interaction between Ruettan and his former in-laws? I'm wondering if you got any sense of how the Rasmussens feel about him & vice-versa.

Also, Pat Lalama's blog states that Ruettan and Lazarus had sex "on at least two occasions" after the Hawaii trip.

Your entry on that testimony also seemed to imply that there was post-murder sex, although when I asked previously about that, it seemed that I misinterpreted what you had wrote. I'm very curious if there was that interaction between them after the murder, and if so, the details of that testimony. THANKS! Susan

Answer:
Pat LaLama, (an amazing reporter) is correct. In 1989 Ruetten found out that Lazarus was going to be in Hawaii or already in Hawaii with a male (like a brother to her) friend. Ruetten met her there. He states that he did not have sexual intercourse with Lazarus in Hawaii. It was unclear from testimony if he contacted her while traveling through Los Angeles first and then met her in Hawaii, but I think that's the case. Ruetten testified that after the Hawaii trip, he believes he had sex with Lazarus on two occasions.

Interaction between Ruetten and his former in-laws. Ruetten attended voir dire. One reporter told me they observed Ruetten walking into the courtroom holding Loretta Rasmussen's hand. The days Ruetten testified, he was standing with and talking to Nels and Loretta during breaks. Ruetten's older sister Gail, sat with the Rasmussen's in the gallery after she testified.

Question:
Kathy said...
What knowledge do you have concerning the neighborhood where Sherri and John lived vs. where the car was found abandoned? High crime, safe, quiet, lots of people about, connection to Lazarus?

I'm thinking the spot chosen for abandoning the car was done so the car would hopefully get stolen again. Any other thoughts?

Answer:
I'm trying to remember where I lived in the San Fernando Valley back then. I was still an internal bank auditor ..... I think I lived in Valley Village area. Crime was pretty bad in the 1980's throughout Los Angeles. Matthew McGough's article, The Lazarus File states that in the 1980's, there were about 30 murders a year in the Valley. That number is about a quarter of what it was back then. If you look at Google maps for that intersection, there is housing there now, but who knows what was there over 20 years ago.

Question:
Hi Sprocket,

Can you please let me know why they have 2 DNA analysts instead of one? Thanks in advance, Francaise.

Answer:
They each did different work, in different years. Jennifer Francis worked on the case first. She ran the bite mark swab to obtain a DNA profile in early 2005. She ran that profile through CODIS; there were no hits. That's when the case went cold a second time.

The case files were transferred back to Van Nuys Division. In 2009, Van Nuys detectives reviewed the file again, looked at it with fresh eyes, realized they had a woman suspect and started looking at five women in Rasmussen's life. They labeled Lazarus, number five. Detectives tailed her, obtained a cup and straw she threw away and immediately sent that to the lab.

DNA analyst Michael Mastrocovo did the comparison of the bite mark swab to the DNA secretly obtained from Lazarus in late May 2009 . That DNA was enough of a match (11 of 13 alleles) to arrest her. When Lazarus was in custody, a new swab was taken from her. Jennifer Francis did that comparison and got the chance of a match of one in 402.1 quadrillion.

There will be a third DNA analyst, since some specimens (the bite mark, Lazarus DNA swab while in custody, the torn fingernails collected at the scene and the coroner's fingernail clippings) were sent to an outside laboratory for more sophisticated comparison.

Question:
Anonymous said...
Regarding the torn fingernails, did they belong to Rasmuessen or Lazarus? How could Lazarus possibly explain her broken fingernails being found at the scene of the crime?

Answer:
The torn fingernails belonged to Rasmussen. The only thing of Lazarus' at the scene is allegedly the saliva from the bite mark swab collected from Rasmussen's body at the condo by criminalist Lloyd Mahaney, in the early morning hours of February 25th, 1986.

Question:
Nancy B said...

In the partial autopsy report Dr. Selser documented: "Another bullet type wound was noted under the decedent’s right eye with no indication of an exit wound." (It's on the 1st page)

I'm confused because I thought that there were only 3 GSW's - not 4. Do you know anything more that would clarify this?

Answer:
This is not a bullet wound but must be a round hole type wound. Dr. Selser has already testified and all the wounds documented on the face/head diagram in the autopsy report were read into the record. I don't specifically recall Dr. Selser mentioning this wound, but I didn't write many of these down. Rasmussen was shot three times in the torso.

Question:
Becky said...
Sprocket, I know that Stephanie had a day off the day of the murder. Did she have an alibi for that day?

Answer:
If Lazarus did, she did not share it with police after she was arrested. We have yet to hear the defense case and it is possible Lazarus will take the stand in her own defense.

Question:
Anonymous said...
What impact, if any, do you think Lazarus's demeanor is having with the jury? From what you describe, she seems to have very little to no eye contact with jurors and witnesses. As you have covered your fair share of trials, what do you make of her detachment? Do you think Overland has instructed her to remain distant and detached or do you think this is her coping strategy? Having been a juror once, I liked facing and having eye contact in court.

Answer:
Although I've watched many trials on TV and online, I've not watched that many in person, where I can observe the jury.

It's hard to say what impact Lazarus' demeanor has on the jury. They are instructed to only judge the case on the evidence...but I imagine that how she appears in court does leave an impression. It would on anyone. We all make judgements about people we see and observe.

What I find interesting is Mark Overland, Courtney Overland and Lazarus do not stand for the jury when they exit the courtroom. The prosecution does. Overland stays in his seat that's turned towards the jury box. Lazarus stays seated at the defense table. So does Courtney. I'm trying to remember if James Fayed stood for when the jury exited and it's a blank. I know Spector stood for the jury and I believe Cameron Brown did also.


Question:
Several questions from Nancy B:
Rasmussen's illness: We have heard from Ruetten on the issue of Sherri being ill. I just haven't typed up the detail notes on that day. It was a last minute thing that she didn't go into work. The lecture she was scheduled to give involved something to do with the personnel dept. Ruetten stated it was a part of her job that she didn't like to do, this particular lecture. He thought that, part of her not going into work was avoiding having to give this lecture.

The crime scene: The prosecution plans to call a crime scene analyst who will testify that in their opinion, the scene was staged. There was blood on a few places, but they appeared to be blood smears to me, from contact of a bloody hand with a wall and not specifically "spatter". There was no big blood "spatter" like you would see with a big gunshot wound or for example, being hit with a baseball bat. There may have been some on the carpeting, but we were not shown that and I don't believe they took blood samples from the carpet. They did take sample swatches from blood stains found on walls. There were not that many. The three gunshot wounds were very close to Rasmussen, one a contact wound. The prosecution believes the blanket in the living room was used as a silencer around the gun before Rasmussen was shot because of the gunpowder residue on the blanket. The blanket would also I expect, absorbed any back-spatter.

Head wounds: There were many wounds on Rasmussen's face, head and hands. She was beaten up. She fought hard for her life. There is the possibility Rasmussen was tied up, but that testimony was not definitive from Dr. Selser. There was blood found on the rope left at the scene.

The broken window: If I'm remembering correctly, they did trajectory analysis on the two shots through the sliding glass doors that went out to a patio off the kitchen. The images show these glass windows completely shattered, with big holes in them. I believe (but am not positive) the trajectory of the shots came from the lower level (living room). I expect the crime scene analyst will talk about those shots, and when they most likely occurred.

I hope that answers all of your questions Nancy.

Question:
Anonymous said...
Having watched the 48 hrs. Mystery Episode on the Rasmussen murder and read every word posted on the Trials and Tribulation website, I must ask, "why isn't this trial televised or even posted on YouTube???? Those who violate the oath of "to protect and serve" should be shown during their trial to the public. Your comments would be nice to here!!!

Answer:
It all has to do with the judge who hears the case. Judges get to run their courtrooms as they see fit. California does not have the "Sunshine Laws" that Florida does, with each courtroom already set up with cameras in them. In Los Angeles County, it is up to each individual judge whether or not they will allow cameras inside "their" courtroom. It's his courtroom. He gets to decide.

As much as I've enjoyed watching Judge Robert J. Perry on the bench, (especially when he gets frustrated with counsel questioning a witness and takes over the examination himself and then tells counsel to move on), Judge Perry is considered "old school". He does not allow reporters to use blackberries or laptops or smart phones while he is on the bench. It's hand written notes only. I've asked the Public Information Office (PIO) if Judge Perry has ever allowed cameras in his courtroom. They've told me that he sometimes allows a camera during sentencing, but that's it. He considered having the opening statements filmed in this case, but ruled against it shortly before the trial began.

Things are not likely to change in the downtown criminal court building (especially cases heard on the 9th floor, a security floor) unless there are laws enacted that require cameras in all courtrooms. It was amazing to me that Judge Pastor eventually ruled in favor of cameras in the Conrad Murray manslaughter trial. I thought for certain he would keep them out.

11 comments:

Sophie said...

Is it definite that S.L. never contacted J.R. after the murder; was all contact initiated from him only?
Who performed the paid & classmate.com search on J.R.?
Keep up good work,
Sophie

Summer said...

Thank you so much for your trial coverage! I've been following since I saw this case on 48 Hours Mystery last year and I read your updates daily.
My question is: On 48 Hours, Mark Overland stated that the vial containing the dna swab from the bite mark was fully protruding from the envelope and that the vial was no longer sealed. From the testimony it seems that the envelope was torn but the vial wasn't protruding out, and I don't remember reading anything indicating it wasn't sealed. Can you summarize the testimony on this issue?
Thanks in advance!
Summer

Starbright said...

Sprocket:

You are so kind, with everything else you have going on, to answer questions! You are an amazing woman. Again, I can't tell you how much I appreciate what you do. In a case this interesting, and this old, I am really grateful that I don't have to zip around on the internet to tray and find out what went on in court today.

Again, thank you so much.

Starbright (William's wife)

Susan said...

Did you see/hear any out-of-courtroom or in-courtroom interaction between Ruettan and his former in-laws? I'm wondering if you got any sense of how the Rasmussens feel about him & vice-versa.

Also, Pat Lalama's blog states that Ruettan and Lazarus had sex "on at least two occasions" after the Hawaii trip.

http://blogs.discovery.com/criminal_report/2012/02/pat-lalama-reports-defense-knocks-star-witness-credibility-in-lazarus-love-triangle.html

Your entry on that testimony also seemed to imply that there was post-murder sex, although when I asked previously about that, it seemed that I misinterpreted what you had wrote. I'm very curious if there was that interaction between them after the murder, and if so, the details of that testimony.

THANKS!

Susan

Kathy said...

What knowledge do you have concerning the neighborhood where Sherri and John lived vs. where the car was found abandoned? High crime, safe, quiet, lots of people about, connection to Lazarus?

I'm thinking the spot chosen for abandoning the car was done so the car would hopefully get stolen again.

Any other thoughts?

Francaise Canadien said...

HI SPROCKET,

CAN YOU PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHY THEY HAVE 2 DNA ANALYSTS ENSEAD OF ONE? THANKS IN ADVANCE.

Francaise.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the torn fingernails, did they belong to Rasmuessen or Lazarus?

How could Lazarus possibly explain her broken fingernails being found at the scene of the crime?

NancyB said...

In the partial autopsy report Dr. Selser documented: "Another bullet type wound was noted under the decedent’s right eye with no indication of an exit wound." (It's on the 1st page)

I'm confused because I thought that there were only 3 GSW's - not 4. Do you know anything more that would clarify this?

Becky said...

Sprocket, I know that Stephanie had a day off the day of the murder. Did she have an alibi for that day?

NancyB said...

I am convinced that Sherri had made sure that all the doors to her condo were locked that morning. She had told friends & her father how intimidated and upset she felt as a result of Stephanie’s confrontations & recent stalking ‘dressed as a boy’ behaviors. So I do believe that Stephanie picked the lock to gain entry as testimony in the trial has been introduced that she had a lock picking kit & the knowledge of how to use it.

We have never learned what was wrong with Sherri that morning but she must have felt very ill to have cancelled/called off ill, when she was expected to speak at another site other than the hospital that she worked at.

I keep wondering about the specifics of how this horrific murder occurred. Do you think that the prosecution intends to have an expert witness testify as to what the crime scene evidence shows, as to how this crime played out? Like a crime scene reconstruction.

The 48 hr piece proposed that it's likely that the killer hit Sherri over the head with the heavy vase which may have given Lazarus time to pull her gun. OK. When did the 2 shots happen that shattered the sliding glass door? Before the 3 shots that killed Sherri or after? She’s an expert marksman so why did she take those shots? Did they happen during a struggle for the gun?

I don’t remember any bloodstain pattern analysis expert testifying during the preliminary hearing. Somewhere I read that there was blood spatter on the walls. I’m wondering if blood spatter on walls was found just on the living room wall(s) or if the entryway & stairway area walls were also blood spattered.

From your notes:
Dr. S: Number 1. There’s not anything that would (cause? decedent? to?) fall to the ground immediately. There would be rapid loss of blood pressure. It would be a disabling injury. Not able to walk. Not a thoracic (injury?).

Number 3. Rapidly disabling injury. The victim could walk a short distance but not very far.

(I might have missed numbering one of the above sentences, or missed hearing her discuss wound #2.)


I read in the partial autopsy report that that Bullet #2 went through the mediastinal tissues (mediastinal refers to the part of the thoracic cavity between the pleural sacs of each lung that contains the heart, aorta, trachea and thymus) and lacerated through the descending thoracic aorta (a huge major vessel) and penetrated the thoracic vertebrae at T4-5 which lacerated the spinal cord. From the autopsy report & Dr. Selser’s testimony I am surmising that she was still alive for all 3 gun shots – however this GSW would have paralyzed her from the upper chest area and below. It would have prevented her ability for any further protective/defensive actions.

Dr. Selser states “there were possibly up to three blunt force trauma contacts on the skull. There was no skull fracture or bleeding on the head. There was no fatal injury via the skull. No way to say how the individual suffered”.

From your notes: On the inside of the mouth, where it attaches to bone the frenulum is torn. Just placing one’s hand over the mouth wouldn’t tear it (but possibly if the victim moved?)

The frenulum is the skin that attaches your tongue to the bottom of your mouth. Not all of Sherri’s wounds that are documented on the partial autopsy report could have been the result of smashing the large vase over her head. The septum of her upper lip was also noted to be torn and bruised.

Poor Sherri suffered so much pain and fear until she died and was finally released into God’s arms. If I can’t get these thoughts out of my mind, I can only imagine how much her family and friends that loved and adored her so much have suffered.

Anonymous said...

Having watched the 48 hrs. Mystery Episode on the Rasmussen murder and read every word posted on the Trials and Tribulation website, I must ask, "why isn't this trial televised or even posted on YouTube???? Those who violate the oath of "to protect and serve" should be shown during their trial to the public.

Your comments would be nice to here!!!