UPDATED 12:40 PM
2-17-2012 Prosecution witness Donald Barona, former sales manager for LA Police Revolver & Athletic Club, DDA Shannon Presby, Judge Robert J. Perry © Thomas Broersma
Closing arguments are set to begin at 9:00 AM today in the Stephanie Lazarus murder trial. Lazarus is facing a possible life sentence for the death of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, the new wife of her ex-lover, John Ruetten.
DDA Paul Nunez will present first. Nunez is expected to argue less than two hours about the scientific evidence that the prosecution feels proves Lazarus is guilty; specifically the DNA bite mark evidence that was stored in the the LA County Coroner's freezers for nineteen years. The DNA profile from that evidence was compared to Lazarus four years later when the cold case file was reexamined by homicide detectives at the LAPD Van Nuys Division. Stephanie Lazarus' name was found in the case file.
Next, defense attorney Mark Overland is expected to argue anywhere from four to five hours that the DNA evidence is not valid or cannot be relied upon because of the condition the envelope was found in, supposedly unreliable documentation procedures and possible contamination of the evidence. It is expected Overland will also argue that the bullets and weapon that killed Rasmussen could not be positively linked to his client; that Lazarus was not obsessed with Ruetten as the prosecution contends but that she was dating other men during that time period.
The final argument will be presented by DDA Shannon Presby, who is expected to argue one hour about the other circumstantial evidence the prosecution feels links Lazarus to the murder.
The number of hours of closing arguments is expected to take until mid day Tuesday to present to the jury. Afterwards, Judge Perry will read jury instructions and they will get the case to deliberate.
I will have an update on the closings when court breaks for lunch.
UPDATE 12:40 PM:
DDA Nunez spoke for about an hour, eloquently outlining their evidence and explaining in detail how it proves the defendant committed the murder.
Nunez started off by talking about the happy moments John Ruetten and Sherri Rasmussen shared in the months leading up to the murder. A marriage, a new niece and another sister with a new baby on the way.
However, the months preceding the murder were quite different for Stephanie Lazarus. Her roommate Mike Hargreaves saw the grief that she was feeling. In her journal she wrote how her concentration was lost. She tried to reach out to John, but that didn't help; he was going forward with the marriage. She wrote a letter to John's mother, telling her that she truly loved John, and that she will never understand John's decision. This grief, mixed with her skills as a police officer, her days off, was the perfect mix, the perfect cocktail... Stephanie Lazarus was waiting for the moment to strike, waiting for the victim to be alone.
Nunez then went over what Rasmussen experienced in the moments before she was killed. She was bound, she was bitten, she was hit on he head with a vase, she was pistol whipped. And when Sherri was lying there on the ground, the defendant knew what she was about to do. She wrapped the blanket around the gun to muffle the sound. She fired once, fired twice, then moved in closer and fired a contact shot (right up against Sherri's skin).
Nunez argued that the reason this crime occurred was jealousy. Simply put, the jealousy the defendant had for the victim existed because Lazarus loved John. There's no evidence that anyone else had the motive to kill Sherri Rasmussen.
Nunez presented various clips from the police interview to argue that Lazarus lied to the detectives in that interview and was trying to deflect detectives from the fact that she had a motive to kill Sherri.
The DNA evidence as well as the rest of the circumstantial evidence was also argued that it supported their theory that Lazarus committed this crime. The DNA left at the scene. The fact that Lazarus had the opportunity. She had three days off before the murder. Three days to plan, three days to stalk, three days to strike.
The Federal bullets that match the type of ammunition that LAPD officers were required to use in their duty and off-duty weapons. Her stolen weapon 13 days later, that was not reported to LAPD. The five bullets fired at the scene and the bullets that had tool marks indicating they were fired from a weapon creating tool marks with 5 lands and groves and a right twist, and the fact that her lost weapon was a five shot that would exhibit the same characteristics on bullets.
For the first 40 minutes of Overland's closing argument, he spoke to the jurors about jury instructions and the laws they must follow when coming to a decision.
Overland then went on to point out inconsistencies in the prosecution's evidence. Overland spoke about what the DNA did and did not prove, as well as what the original investigators concluded in the case.
Overland argued that the jury should not believe the detectives who investigated the case in 2009 because they can lie. He showed examples of the detectives lying to Lazarus and trying to trap her into saying something incriminating in the video interview.
I'll have much more on closing arguments when I write up my detail notes late tonight.