Saturday, February 11, 2012
Stephanie Lazarus, interrogation interview, right before her arrest
Since this will be a long weekend, I thought I would put up a Question & Answer entry. If you have any questions about the Stephanie Lazarus trial, please feel free to leave a comment and I will try to answer as best I can.
Question: Annette said:
I am wondering how the Rasmussen family is holding up? Is John attending the trial? I am keeping them in my prayers.
Keep up the good work. I look forward to getting home from work every evening to get caught up on the days events there in LA.
Sherri Rae Rasmussen's family does not speak to the press about the case and I have not asked them how they are doing. They do smile and say hello to me since I'm sitting right in front of them. John Ruetten has not been attending the trial. The only time I've seen him was at the last day of voir dire. I expect he is barred from the trial because it's a good bet he's on the prosecution or the defense witness list.
Question: Kathy said:
Is it normal for a judge to ask his own questions of the witness? I have never served jury duty, and I do not recall ever seeing this on any trial I have watched on TV.
Judges sit as the "13th Juror" and can have their own questions. It's not unusual. This is Judge Perry's style. He does like to keep the trial moving along at a good pace and sometimes asks his own questions and then tells counsel, "Move along." He's an interesting judge to watch.
Question: Christina said:
John Ruetten interests me.
When did he remarry and with whom?
Do you know anything about his contacts to Stephanie Lazarus just before or just after Sherri Rasmussen´s death?
Thanks again for your excellent "written Video".
Thank you Christina.
John Ruetten is the big mystery. As far as I know, Ruetten has not spoken to the press since 1987, about a year after Rasmussen's murder.
In June or August 1985, an emotional Lazarus called Ruetten and asked to see him. While engaged to Rasmussen, he went to Lazarus' condo where Lazarus told John how she felt about him, that she loved him. What her emotional state at the time was, will depend on who you believe. They were sexually intimate during that meeting. I don't know if that was the last time he saw her but I believe it was the last time they were intimate before he got married.
We don't know at this point what his relationship with her was after his wife's murder.
From my notes on Overland's opening statement:
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.
I do not know when Ruetten married. If Ruetten is not on the prosecution's witness list, (I can't imagine he wouldn't be) he most certainly will be on the defense. Expect extensive cross of Ruetten if he is on the prosecution's list.
Question: Mark G:
Based on your observations of the jury -- and it may be early to tell -- but what is there demeanor, body language and/or attitude when Overland suggests that the DNA evidence has been compromised and/or contaminated?
Unfortunately, I can't say. I have not noticed any obvious body language or facial expressions that would point one way or the other. When I'm in court and writing furiously, my focus is on my notepad or the witness. I occasionally glance to see if the jury is taking notes.
Question: Charlie N said:
Were you able to discern any reaction from jurors when Jennifer Francis revealed that it was 1 in 402.1 quadrillion that this was anyone else's DNA other than Lazarus'. Thanks for your great blog.
Not really. The jury heard this figure (and the higher one 1.7 sextillion) in opening statements.
Question: Ellwood said:
Do you think the prosecution will have a explanation on how Stephanie Lazarus knew that Sherrie Rasmussen would be home sick, when it was her last minute decision not to go to work that day?
I believe this was answered during the last day of the preliminary hearing. The prosecution tried to add the charge "lying in wait" but were unsuccessful. This was due to the way the law covering "lying in wait" was interpreted to be applied back in 1986. From my understanding, according to statements made by Rasmussen's family, Sherri believed she was being followed, stalked. It is unknown at this time if we will hear any testimony about that. We will hear testimony that Lazarus had a lock-picking kit and (I believe) bragged she knew how to pick locks.
Question: Kathy said:
Yes, indeed John Ruetten is the big mystery.
Has any of your research uncovered his knowledge of Lazarus' stalking of his wife? As Rasmussen had told her father and friend(s) about the stalking, it is hard to believe that she would not have told her husband. And if she did mention it to him, why did he not confront Lazarus and report it to the police?
The only other individual who witnessed one confrontation at the hospital was a coworker of Sherri's, who has since died. That was at the preliminary hearing, but the information could not be presented. I do not know if any of this information will be allowed to come in at trial.
Question: Anonymous @12:58 PM said:
I am curious to know how is Lazarus' handsome husband, Scott Young appear to be holding up? I am sure, it must be awfully hard on him amongst his fellow detectives, knowing that is wife stands accused of a horrific murder. Also, how does Lazarus, herself appear to be holding up during trial?
Stephanie has had several family members show up at court every day for the first week. They are supporting her. On Friday, I believe there were eight people there. Her husband, her mother, her brother Steven are the ones that I know. The others I do not know who they are. I could not tell you if Scott Young is doing well or not. I have seen him with a Holy Bible (I believe) every day he has been in court. Lazarus is much thinner than in her interrogation interview and the images of her in her orange jumpsuit at her arraignment. She is alert, and appears to be very involved in her defense. She appeared to be very involved in the vior dire process. From where I am sitting, it does not appear that she is wearing any makeup. (I don't know if she wore makeup on the job or not or like myself, wore very little.) She does have that pallor of someone who has not seen sunlight in a long time. When she is brought out of the jail area, she always has big smiles for her family in the gallery.
Question: Brad said:
In the autopsy report, it states under gunshot wound #2, that a "9mm silvery flattened nose gold (?) missle" (bullet)was recovered from the body, at time of autopsy. Now, the prosecution is talking about two .38 special bullets being recovered. Have you heard anything about this at trial?
We have heard testimony from the coroner. Sherri Rae Rasmussen was shot three times. It was 38 caliber bullets. The metric vs imperial naming/sizing in the link should answer your question.
Question: Utah Chris said:
I'm unsure how her husband can't have doubts in spite of their years of marriage. I can't believe she didn't speak of anything to do with her former lover at any point. Everyone of us at some point in our lengthy relationships lets the guard down on the traumatic experiences of our past and I'd think it highly unusual if that were not the case here.
The trial isn't over yet Chris. We have only heard from about twenty-three witness so far, out of about the sixty or seventy that are expected. We don't know the full extent of Lazarus' defense and who will testify for her. It is unknown what her relationship with her husband is really like. In the police interrogation video, she states she met her husband in 1992. He moved in with her in 1993 and they married in 1996.
Question: Nancy B said:
Utah Chris - I don't believe that she ever told her husband that she murdered Sherri. No way. I believe that she compartmentalized that event, walled it off and never spoke of it to anyone. That's my belief. Your comment references how "normal" functioning people respond in long term trusting marriages. We would not have murdered Sherri in a million years. Lazarus may have passed for "normal" all these years but I don't believe that she is. It was such a brutal, cold blooded, ruthless and up close murder. I think she is wired differently. I feel very sorry for their adopted daughter.
I keep wondering about the marriage license that went missing. Besides Sherri's sports car that was the only thing the police have stated was missing from the house. How did she find it? I think that I read somewhere that no drawers were thrown about and the reason they initially believed that it was a robbery gone bad was that the expensive stereo equipment was all stacked by the stairs to look like the robber(s) had to leave in a hurry without it. Hmmm. It makes me wonder if Lazarus forced Sherri to show her where it was kept. We will probably never know. The marriage license going missing was a VERY telling clue about who committed this murder.
The marriage license. Police believe that Lazarus entered the condo through the front door and once she entered the attack happened rather quickly. The evidence photos I saw appear to support that. All the blood evidence is in the entrance area and the living room. We may hear from Ruetten where the marriage certificate was kept. When we learn that, that may shed some light as to why the attack was limited to the living room. We'll just have to wait and see.
For those of you who are interested in how people become violent, I recommend the research of maverick criminalist, Dr. Lonnie Athens. You can read all about his theories on "violentization" in a book about Athens' life by Richard Rhodes titled Why They Kill.
I have uploaded a complete copy of the interrogation video of Stephanie Lazarus by Robbery Homicide Division. The video was released by Judge Perry (I believe) in 2009. The link is also listed on my Stephanie Lazarus Quick Links page. I'm not aware of any other place where you can find the complete video. It is over an hour and 12 minutes long. Lazarus reveals some interesting information in this video about herself, most notably, that she doesn't know where her father lives and hasn't had contact with him for some time. My question would be, why? It should be noted that defense attorney Mark Overland has successfully argued to have portions of the video redacted, not shown to the jury. I don't know the specifics of what was redacted. Once the edited video and transcript have been released, we will know.
Question: Robert said...
I think Ruetten is the key to Overland's defense. Unfortunately defense lawyers in murder cases are always trying to pin the crime on someone else, and Reutten had best have an ironclad work place alibi for the time of the crime or he will get chewed up on cross. Either way, his testimony will be personally devastating, particularly if he had any sort of a physical relationship with Lazarus after the engagement and/or after the marriage.
I was curious about a couple of things. When the forensics guy testified about swabbing the stolen BMW I understand that he found blood present, but were there any results from the swabs on the key that matched Lazarus' DNA, and/or did they analyze the fiber he found and come up with anything?
Also, did I read correctly that the .38 caliber slug removed from her matched LAPD issue ammunition at the time? If so, why didn't that set off alarms at the time?
Lastly, did the DA mention in his opening statement that Lazarus did not work on the day of the murder, made no journal entry and to my knowledge has no alibi for her whereabouts, and in the video interview lied repeatedly about her relationship with Ruetten?
You're doing a great job. Keep up the good work ! Robert
First, thank you Robert, and everyone else who has posted questions. This unpaid hobby is a labor of love. Trials are a fascinating part of our legal process and I'm fortunate I have an understanding husband.
Ruetten. He was cleared by police. He was at work all day. He did have a post-incident relationship with Lazarus but we have yet to hear from Ruetten when and what the exact extent of that relationship was.
We've heard about the collection of that evidence and we've heard from the DNA analyst who developed profiles from the evidence collected from the car. If I recall correctly, the biological material found on the keys came up with a partial DNA profile matching Rasmussen. I'd have to check my notes on the other two blood samples, but I think one other sample also came up as a partial profile to Rasmussen. The last came up, I believe, as a full profile to Rasmussen. We have yet to hear from an expert who did an analysis on the hair fiber found in the BMW.
The ammunition was that used by LAPD. We have not heard from the firearms expert yet. It's my belief (opinion) that this ammunition was not "exclusive" to the LAPD; that this particular ammo could be purchased by the general public.
Mark Overland in his opening statement, did mention that Lazarus was on a pre-scheduled time off day. We have not heard any testimony as to her possible whereabouts on that day. I've recently uploaded the complete video tape interrogation. I've listened to most of it. I cannot definitively say that Lazarus lied in the interview. I believe that is open to interpretation. It's my opinion that at times she appears nervous but that might be how Lazarus normally is. In other words, I don't have an observational baseline for her to know one way or another. What I mean by that is, I don't know how Lazarus would act/project in normal, everyday situations compare the video to.
Question: Becky said...
First, thank you for your amazing contribution! Second, I have a question--why didn't the marriage certificate come up in the opening statement? the fact that it was the only thing stolen seems to me to make this a slamdunk case. A robber who didn't know the victim wouldn't care.... Thanks!!!
Presby may have mentioned the marriage certificate in his opening statement and I missed writing it down. (I'm not invincible. I do miss quite a bit of dialog.) It wasn't the only thing stolen. The BMW was stolen. There is only "so much" you can say in opening. It's a good bet that we will hear about the marriage certificate in testimony.
We won't know the full extent of Lazarus' relationship with Ruetten until Ruetten takes the stand. All we've heard so far about it is in opening statements from both sides.
I really appreciate hearing that Sophie. I am working very hard at being a neutral information source and just reporting what I hear in court and observe.
The thing to keep in mind with the interrogation video is that some of it is redacted. I know that the redacted part is a small amount, (possibly 10-20%?) but I don't know the specific statements that were ruled excluded. I will be looking at the comparison between the initial video and what the jury gets to see/hear.
Question: Nancy B said:
Sprocket, Thanks so much for the book title. I just read the introduction on line and ordered the book. It seems to be a fascinating book. I too do not believe in "crimes of passion" and really have no suitable/intelligent explanation how a murder such as this one could occur.
I had never read the book that the Scott Peterson jury wrote. I found the book at a neighborhood yard sale last week and it's a great read. The two journalists that helped write the book are the real deal. Frank Swertlow & Lyndon Stambler.
Truly amazing how dedicated they were in fulfilling their civic duty to the highest possible level. For a few of them it meant only receiving the $13/day stipend as their jobs did not cover payment of their salaries for such a long trial -(May-Dec) A handful of them worked nights several days a week and then stayed alert all day in court - how I don't know! A few worked nearly around the clock on the 3 day weekends to support themselves, as there was no court each Friday. Such a vast difference from the uppity jury in the Anthony trial. The Peterson jury really has restored my faith! They performed at an exemplary level.
I never realized till now that I had not listened to the FULL video of Lazarus' interrogation. Thanks for posting it and clarifying that.
I think I read somewhere that Ruetten made the statement that the detectives back in 1986 told him that they had cleared Lazarus and that was why he had further contact with her after Sherri's death. Do you remember this too or am I dreaming?
How is your car coming along?
Looks like you had another working weekend! Appreciate all your hard work & labor of love immensely. You rock!
Nancy, I vacillate between understanding crimes of passion and not. Understand that the limbic system in the brain, is one of our most basic human response systems. It's activated automatically without thought or careful evaluation of choices. It helps us in fight or flight situations; live or die. And, it can be our undoing. After you get through Richard Rhodes' book, I recommend Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. I've read both books many times. Once you've read them both, we can have a discussion about "crimes of passion".