EDITED for accuracy 3-9-12
UPDATED 10:40 PM
A verdict has been reached in the Stephanie Lazarus Murder case.
GUILTY OF FIRST DEGREE MURDER.
Stephanie is facing 27 years to life
I rushed out to publish the verdict.
There were some heavy hitters in the room, especially from the DA's office. Here's a short recap. (My good friend) Matthew McGough provided notes for me. (If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't know what happened directly after I left the courtroom to publish.) I had my laptop under my arm, ready to run out of the room to publish the verdict as soon as I heard it.
AT 1:40 PM Steve Cooley enters the courtroom and sits between, DDA James Garrison, and DDA Sergio Gonzalez. DDA Pat Dixon, was also there. The well of the court was filled with two rows of detectives and DDA's who worked on the case. The first row left to right in the well was Det. James Nuttall, (Van Nuys Homicide) Det. Dan Jaramillo, Det. Greg Stearns, DDA Rosa Alarcon (Who always looked so lovely. Today she had on an elegant black dress with a short jacket and white pearls. She was stunning. Sprocket.), Det. Rob Bub, Det. Marc Martinez (also Van Nuys Detectives). Judge Lance Ito was in the room sitting directly in front of the defendant's family.
There were nine uniformed Deputy Sheriff's present in the well and in the gallery.
1:45 PM Perry takes the bench and warns the gallery he won't tolerate outbursts of any kind.
Presby and Nunez stood for the jury. As we saw throughout the trial, the defendant and her counsel did not stand for the jurors.
As soon as the guilty verdict was read, Lazarus' husband quickly left the courtroom, along with several supporters. As soon as Stephanie's mother stood up, officers escorted her out.
Teresa Lane and Sherri's former roommate, Jayne Goldberg burst into tears as the verdict sinks in.
The jury exited the courtroom at 1:52 PM. Perry orders the probation report. Perry asks Overland if he wants Lazarus to be interviewed for the probation report, and Lazarus declines.
Sentencing is then set for May 4th, 2012, and Judge Perry states, "This matter is concluded." Perry steps down from the bench DA Steve Cooley makes eye contact with DDA Nunez and gives him a salute. Cooley's first handshakes are to Presby and Nunez. A moment later, Cooley shakes Jim Nuttall's hand and they speak for a time in front of the jury box. Rob Bub and Marc Martinez of Van Nuys Homicide unit were exchanging hand shakes with the RHD Detectives Jaramillo and Stearns.
At this time, all the media has left the courtroom, but Matt stays behind. Nunez comes over and shakes the hand of Nels Rasmussen. Nels was very emotional. He can't even speak. John Taylor shakes Nunez' hand and says, "Congratulations and thank you. Great job." Shannon Presby also comes over and embraces the Rasmussen family. JSID Department Head Sergio Gonzalez comes over to pay his respects to the Rasmussen family. Detective Jaramillo also came over and gave Nels a big hug.
This was emotional journey for everyone involved, including me. I've had the wonderful opportunity to meet some amazing people. A big thank you to Matt, who took these last notes since once I left, I was not allowed back into the packed courtroom.
May 4th, the day of sentencing will be Stephanie Lazarus' 52nd birthday.
I'm finally home. It's been surreal day for me. I was humbled and honored to meet three of the Van Nuys Detectives (Nuttall, Bub, Martinez) who solved the case. Even though they had just worked all through the night on another murder case and hadn't slept since Tuesday, they made it down the the Criminal Court Building to hear the verdict read. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to meet the other member of the Van Nuys team, Detective Pete Barba, who I'm guessing was getting some much needed rest.
I still have a few more stories left to tell on this case. I've interviewed a few people who've contacted me, and I want to share with you what they've had to say about Stephanie Lazarus.
There was a very emotionally charged moment in the hallway before the verdict was read that Matthew and I experienced. Matthew and I were chatting with DDA Shannon Presby's wife (who I swear could pass as Marsha Cross' double) when Nels Rasmussen came up to the three of us and took Clara's hand. He wanted to convey his gratitude to her husband, through her, in case he wasn't able to speak to Presby after the verdict. Matthew described it best. Nels had difficulty getting the words out without choking up. His eyes welled up with tears. The electricity on the entire floor was apparent with all the people there anticipating hearing the verdict. Seeing Nels in such a state, Clara became teary eyed too. I had to look away before I too, became affected by the power of the moment.
I'm going to get a bit of dinner, and I will share some more of my thoughts later tonight. Sprocket.
Here are two videos by the mainstream media.
FOX NEWS and also NBC Patrick Healy
The FOX video has more of the reading of the verdict. In it you can see many of the players that I've talked about for the past month. DDA Shannon Presby is standing for the jurors on the left; DDA Nunez on the right. You can see that everyone at the defense table (Mark Overland, Lazarus, Courtney Overland, Randal "Randy" Later) did not stand for the jurors. In the very beginning of the tape for a few moments you can see those sitting right behind the prosecutors from left to right are Detectives Nuttall, Jaramillo and Stearns. Next to Stearns is DDA Rosa Alarcon. (Unfortunately, you can't see Nuttall's lovely tie in the video.)
In the NBC video, for a brief moment you can see Rasmussen's family to the far left of the video. Sherri's parents, Nels and Loretta are far left of their attorney John Taylor who is speaking to the media. Directly behind Taylor is John Ruetten. Next to Ruetten peeking over Taylor's shoulder is Teresa, Sherri's sister. On the other side of Taylor behind him, is Jayne Goldberg, Sherri's former roommate. Right next to Taylor is legendary Associated Press reporter, Linda Deutsch. Off to the far right is on air KFI reporter Eric Leonard. In the foreground with her back to you in the pink blouse, is Pat LaLama.
During the press conference by Mark Overland, you can see Steven Lazarus who has stood by his sister, in the background.
There are moments in the video where Lazarus does look over at the jurors. For those brief seconds, you can see that she is much thinner, almost gaunt. She does not have any of the wild-eyed look that was published so heavily in the press right after her arrest.
After I had heard the three buzzes signaling a verdict I rushed out to the ante chamber to publish. I was so nervous I had Matthew McGough hold my laptop for me so I could type standing. I didn't want to go out into the hallway. Once the realization settled in that a verdict had been reached, I started getting that same nervous energy that I had experienced before during the second Spector trial and the James Fayed case: a feeling of heightened awareness of my surrounings and a sense that my whole nervous system was on edge. The electricity in the air was already building.
I was on pins and needles when I sat down to lunch with Matthew when who of all people sit down with us, was none other than Detective James Nuttall. After the verdict, he gave T&T readers a quote: "Better to be lucky than good." There was no "luck" to it in my book. It was damn fine police work. The Van Nuys detectives worked tirelessly for four months, making sure they had every possible loose end tied up before they handed the case to Robbery/Homicide.
Matthew and I attended the DA's press conference, where (I was disappointed to hear) James Nuttall's name only mentioned once at the beginning. We then dropped in on John Taylor's press conference. We got to speak to Jaramillo and Stearns for a few moments after that where we heard that Chief Beck would be giving a separate press conference in front of the new LAPD building. (It was later cancelled.) While Matt was talking to them, I saw Detective Stearns break into a smile for the first time and I said, surprised, "I finally get to see you smile!" Stearns has such an expressive face. Stearns replied, "I never smile in the courtroom."
Waiting out in front of the LAPD, Matthew and I spot Dateline NBC's Josh Mankiewicz. I sit down on a bench, my feet and back finally giving out. Matthew goes over to introduce himself and Mankiewicz says he's read Matthew's article in The Atlantic. Before I can stop him, Matthew is telling Mankiewicz who I am and I get introduced. Imagine my shock when Josh says to me that he's read T&T. Who would have ever thought that the mainstream prime time network media would be reading the trial coverage of a shy, semi-retired, middle aged housewife. I still can't believe it myself.
The sentence is set by law. It's written into the California Penal Code 187. From my understanding, Judge Perry does not have any leeway regarding the sentence. She will receive 25 years to life for the for the first degree murder conviction and an additional two years for the gun enhancement charge. Lazarus will be sentenced under the Penal Code that was in effect in 1986, when the murder occurred. If Lazarus had committed this crime in 2012, she would have been facing a much stiffer sentence.
I will still be sharing with you the final day of closing arguments within the next few days. Sprocket.