UPDATED March 12th, 2012 5:35 PM
Sherri Rae Rasmussen
Now that the trial is over and Dateline aired an updated episode on the case, (I'll comment on the show in a moment) I'm sure many of you still have some questions. I will try to answer as many of your questions as I can. I'm still not caught up on answering all my mail, so please do not think that I'm ignoring you. And, as soon I publish this entry, I will be answering my mail then working on the last day of closing arguments which cover the rest of Overland's defense argument and Presby's rebuttal argument.
I've read through several days of comment questions by T&T readers and I've included many of them below.
Question from TS: If there is a hung jury (and I certainly hope not!), is it automatic that there will be another trial? If so, the attorneys on one or both sides may change - yes? Would SL then have the option of a plea deal if offered? And last, SL would still remain incarcerated waiting for another trial unless the 10 million dollar bail was met?
Answer: If there had been a hung jury it's a good bet the case would have been retried. There could also be a change in counsel on both sides, but I would guess that situation would be less likely on the prosecution side. (In Phil Spector, DDA Alan Jackson was involved in both prosecutions. In Cameron Brown, DDA Craig Hum has been the prosecutor on both hung trials and will be handling the third trial. The defense attorney on the Brown case has been different each time.) Yes, I believe shoe would still have been incarcerated until she met bail.
Question from Shannon fr. Seattle: I would love it if you would provide a list of some of your favorite books in this genre. Specifically, I am looking for books that teach people how to recognize lying by face, body language, etc.
Answer: I personally don't know of any books but there might be some out there. Remember, you need to actually "see" the expression being made. However, there are online courses you can take on how to spot and identify micro-expressions. I believe Dr. Paul Ekman has some. I'd also recommend reading the blog Eyes For Lies. She has helped many of her readers hone their skills on how to spot deception.
Question from Robert: I'd love to hear how it was closed out, and if mention was made of Lazarus' lack of an alibi / paper trail (snip).
Answer: Off the top of my head, I'm not remembering a "lack of a paper trail" being mentioned in the rebuttal, but the fact that it was her day off was mentioned. I'm still going to write up my notes from the last day of arguments, so please be patient for that.
Question from Maddie: Looking forward to your reporting on what everyone's reactions were -- particularly the defendant's. Does this mean she'll be stripped of her pension? I think it's unbelievable that she would still be entitled to that.
Answer: From where I was sitting, I could not see Lazarus' face. Standing behind her for virtually all of the time I was in the courtroom were two deputy sheriff's, facing the gallery. The brief look I saw of her mother's face was heartbreaking. She retired before she was convicted of anything so she receives her pension. I believe even if she was convicted, she would still receive her pension.
Question from LC California: Where will you take us next?
Answer: Unless something compelling comes up quickly, I will be covering the Cameron Brown third trial in Judge Pastor's courtroom (Dept. 107) later this summer. This is a very compelling case. It's a true mystery as to what happened on Inspiration Point. I covered the second trial in July 2009. During that trial I got sick at the start of the defense case and so I wasn't able to cover that case in a completely balanced manner. I hope to rectify that. Beyond that, I hope to cover Kelly Soo Park and possibly Lonnie Franklin Jr., (both in Judge Kennedy's courtroom, Dept. 109). The "long shot" I might cover will be Christian Gerhartsreiter, and that will depend on if it's tried in the Alhambra or Pasadena Courthouse or moved to downtown LA.
Question from Anon @3:01 PM 3/8: Who from Stephanie's family was present for the verdict? The LA Times said her mother was escorted out but didn't say a thing about her husband.
Answer: Lazarus' siblings, Judi and Steven were there. Steven's companion was there and a few other people that were there throughout the trial that I've never had identified. I have a bit of information on Lazarus' husband from a trusted eyewitness source in the back row who wishes to remain anonymous.
QUOTE SOURCE: The moment the word "guilty" was read by the court clerk, two deputies separately and immediately put their hands on Carol and Scott Young, helping them up and escorting them out of the courtroom. This was even before the clerk had read the "first degree" part of the verdict. (I believe this is correct. I saw Carol being helped out of her chair before I left, and I was waiting to hear first or second. Sprocket) It appeared to the observer that this was prearranged with Carol and Scott and neither seemed resistant in any way or surprised by the touching of the sheriff's or any other aspect of this "escorting".
Furthermore, Scott Young usually sat in the front row behind the defendant. For the verdict, he was positioned in the chair closest to the exit door with two or three deputies next to him and interacting with him in a polite, professional way. I inferred from all this that both of them wanted to be out of the room immediately if any form of a "guilty" verdict was reached. Scott, being so well positioned, was out of there in a nanosecond; Stephanie's Mom took longer to get up and I think to grab her purse. As she was walking out, and again, while the proceeding was still underway, Steven Lazarus turned around to her from his seat in the front row and mouthed the question "do you want me to go with you?" I didn't catch what her answer or signal was to him because her back was to mine at that point. She must have demurred because he then turned back to resume watching what remained of the proceedings.
Also, one other observation that might be of interest, that may relate to this. When Stephanie walked in the courtroom for the verdict, she turned and warmly (If briefly) smiled to her "section." Then her expression quickly changed, to one of puzzlement—as if someone was missing. Then she looked further to her left and saw Scott Young, in the seat at the end next to the door, gave a quick "aha" expression, and her smile returned, as if to say, "ah, ok, there you are, I'm happy now." I would infer she was briefly unaware of this reconfiguration of Scott, which I would guess was done by voluntary prearrangement.
Question from Anon @ 3:38 PM 3/8: Wonder if she's headed for Chowchilla or Fontana?
Answer: I agree with T&T contributor CaliGirl9 who has insight about these things. My money is on Fontana with the Manson girls.
Question from LC: Excuse my ignorance but who decides the sentence?
Answer: From my understanding, the sentence is written into the California Penal Code 187 for murder at the time of the murder. For example, if she had committed this crime today, it's my understanding she would have received 50 years to life instead of 27 to life. (There was a female CHP officer who was recently sentenced to 50 to life for shooting her husband a few years ago.)
I honestly do not know at what point she is eligible for parole since there have been different answers from different sources. She may be eligible for parole earlier than I had originally thought due to when the crime was committed. It is doubtful she will be granted her freedom at her first parole hearing on first degree murder. It's my belief that to gain parole at any time in the future she would most likely need to admit guilt to the parole board, but I have no evidence to support that.
Question from Shannon fr. Seattle: Will she get credit or will the time be reduced for good behavior etc?
Answer: Lazarus will get credit for time served in the County jail. I believe her time can be reduced for good behavior, but I do not know if that goes into effect since her incarceration, or after she has been transferred to state prison.
Question from Larry L: Now it's time for you to get some needed and well-earned rest and to do something nice for yourself and Mr. Sprocket, as well as "the 'real' Sprocket".
Answer: I took a day off and we treated ourselves to a restaurant meal so Mr. Sprocket did not have to cook. I am one of those lucky women where I don't have to cook; Mr. Sprocket does it all. Sadly, the "real" Sprocket is no longer with us.
Question from Utah Chris: Has there been any discussion of the case convictions SL has completed since the time of the murder and possibly jeopardizing her testimony due to the obvious character defect since identified? I'm sure every convict put away by her is happy to see her past testimony put into a negative light and possibly opening an appeal door for their convictions. What do you think?
Answer: Her conviction for murder had nothing to do with her being "on the job". She was off work that day. I don't see how someone convicted of a crime from Lazarus' testimony at their trial could make an appellate argument for reversal due to her conviction. However, I've been surprised by court rulings before.
Question from Anon @ 11:50 AM 3/9: Does anyone know about the Rasmussen's civil case against the LAPD? Also, Sprocket mentioned working on Cameron Brown's third trial. It's been awhile since I heard his name. Is he in or out of custody at this time and what charges are they looking at?
Answer: I will check with the Rasmussen's family attorney regarding the civil case. I thought I heard in the Dateline piece it was thrown out against the LAPD but that may not be correct. Cameron Brown has been in custody with no bond since his arrest on November 16th, 2003. Brown is charged with 187, felony murder.
Question from Becky: Were you ever able to clear up whether or not the marriage certificate was stolen? Will Stephanie remain in jail until sentencing, or be shipped out to prison now?
Answer: When I have more information on the marriage certificate, I will share it. There was no testimony during the trial as to what happened to it. I'm pretty certain Lazarus remains in jail until she's sentenced. The state prison needs the official sentence before she is shipped off.
Question from Anon @ 8:54 PM 3/9: LAPD was under pressure to clean up their act and while looking onto cold cases they see a familiar name " Stephanie Lazarus" Knowing she has a desk a few cubbies over from the cold case homicide unit, they think " How easy would it be to close this cold case and get the Rasmussen Family closure. (snip)
Answer: Unfortunately, it's clear you are not familiar with the facts of the case and who was responsible for solving it. The cold case unit when it was first started in 2001 was in an old storage closet and not "a few cubbies over" from Lazarus' desk in the Commercial Crimes (Art Theft) Detail Unit. You are confusing the Robbery/Homicide Unit at Parker Center with the Van Nuys Homicide Division that ultimately solved the case. Robbery/Homicide was not handed the case until AFTER the DNA was tested, came back a match and the case was solved. Robbery/Homicide only interviewed Lazarus at Parker Center and made the arrest. That's all they did.
The DNA profile came back in 2005. The case went cold a second time when the DNA put into CODIS did not come back with a hit. The case was considered inactive, and left the cold case unit and went back to the originating division, which was Van Nuys. It was there under a standard review that Detective James Nuttall looked at the case with fresh eyes.
Question from Anon @ 8:57 PM 3/9: Sprocket What do you think about this comment I read at the LA Times. Here is a copy of a comment left after the LA Times ran a ad several weeks ago! Makes You Think! MJDavis747 at 1:28 PM February 16, 2012 The DNA evidence will be ruled inadmissible due to contamination and chain of continuity. Judge Perry should have ruled the evidence inadmissible in response to the defense motion to suppress.(snip).
Answer: Mark Overland presented arguments pretrial to exclude this evidence. Judge Perry wasn't swayed by those arguments; I don't believe it had anything to do with "courage". I'd also recommend reading my coverage of the motions to exclude some of the blood evidence and DNA testing on the fingernails. Judge Perry ruled that you couldn't exclude something Ochaie collected but then also include something she did collect. He ruled it all came in and the jury would get to decide what was relevant.
Question from Anon @ 9:00 AM 3/10: Betsy...I feel as though I know you as a friend and silly as it sounds, I will miss you. I know you've said you are shy but for all your T & T friends, please, publish a picture.
Answer: I've already addressed this in a previous Q&A so you can look back and see the answer. I am in my 50's. I need to lose weight. I have graying brown hair past my elbows. I wear wire-rimmed glasses. I am a casual dresser usually wearing jeans and black tennis shoes. The tennis shoes are for comfort and don't set off the security walk-through scanners like my nicer shoes do.
Question from SeniorMoments: It is really ironic that Judge Perry had two cases in his courtroom regarding female law enforcement officers found guilty of murder within a couple of days. Sprocket, do you have any idea how cases are assigned to judges?
Answer: No, I do not know how cases are assigned to the various judges. I'll put that question to the Public Information Office.
The Dateline Episode:
Here are a few things off the top of my head. I will add more, once I view the episode a second time. The episode was edited in such a way that it appears Detective Nuttall stated that Rasmussen received one shot to her body in the kitchen. That's not the case. Of the five shots fired at the scene, Detective Nuttall is saying that at least one of those shots was fired from the dining room/kitchen area. The three shots to her body were fired while she was on the living room floor, flat on her back unconscious from being hit in the head with the vase.
I don't believe the image of the freezers that they showed on the episode were the actual Coroner's Office freezers. It's not my understanding of what those freezers are like.
All the information from Nels about his daughter being stalked was not entered into evidence. It was ruled hearsay. And as we know, the marriage certificate was not testified to at the trial.
The Dateline Episode:
The Dateline episode states that lockpicking books were found in her home.
I don't believe there were lock picking books found in her home. Detective Stearns testified there was an entry in her daily planner for the week of February 18th-24th 1985 that had the title of two books on locksmithing. They were Complete Course in Professional Locksmithing and Modern Locksmithing. This is in my detail notes that I did not get around to transcribing for the blog.
UPDATED March 12th, 2012, 9:05 AM
It appears I may be wrong about the Dateline edit of Detective James Nuttall's comments on the shots fired. So a belated kudos to "Armchair Detective" for their comment. It appears I may have jumped the gun in not contemplating your supposition more thoroughly. I apologize.
Could there be another theory of the sequence of the shots fired that differs from what detectives in Robbery/Homicide concluded and the theory presented by the prosecution at trial? I don't know. All I know is, there was no blood in the kitchen area.
UPDATED March 12th, 2012, 5:35 PM
I feel I need to make a correction. I know at some point, I said that the Robbery/Homicide detectives only interviewed and arrested Lazarus; they didn't solve the case. That's not completely accurate. Once Lazarus was arrested, Robbery/Homicide performed countless man hours on the case, investigating Lazarus and putting in the research necessary for the DA's office to prosecute her. I apologize for the mis-characterization of their service.