Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Evidence Photos

UPDATED May 3rd, 2012 for spelling, clarity.

Early on in the trial, I inquired about obtaining a few of the exhibits. I only wanted diagrams. Unfortunately, Judge Perry did not release any items of evidence until the case was settled. I had decided early on that I would not publish photos of Sherri or any photos that had blood smears in them. This was a personal decision. I felt these images would be too painful for both the victim’s and defendant’s families to have out there on the web. One of the things that bothered me the most about the first Spector trial (that was televised) were the images of Lana Clarkson’s body that hit the Internet and how painful that must have been for her loved ones.

One of the main points of the prosecution’s case against Lazarus was the theory that the crime scene was staged. What does that mean? It means the killer (or killers) manipulated the scene to direct attention away from the real perpetrators. The only evidence of a "robbery" was in the living room. No other room in the town home was disturbed. They were in pristine condition. Sherri kept a neat and tidy home.

One of the prosecution’s key witnesses was Mark Safarik, a former FBI profiler, the people's crime scene analyst. Safarik testified that Sherri’s town home was not in an ideal location for a burglary. The complex was surrounded by walls and gated entrances. The driveway gates needed a remote sensor to open them. The front entrance, you needed either a key or to be “buzzed” inside. Unit 205 was set deep inside the complex and not on an end or near the street.

Below is a layout of the grounds of the town home complex with Unit 205 marked.

Site Plan - 7100 Balboa

Another important element of the staging in the living room was the pulled out drawer from a small table between two chairs. It was the only drawer in the house that was pulled out and it was pulled all the way out of the table and up-ended. It’s also a location where one would not expect to see valuables. Although it is difficult to see on this image, there is evidence that the drawer was not riffled through, to look for valuables because a box of sewing pins is still in place, altogether. On the chair next to the table is the blanket/garment with the bullet holes and indicating the barrel cylinder GSR residue.

Table Drawer Pulled Out

Another element that Safarik believed was evidence of staging was the two pieces of video/stereo equipment stacked in front of the stairway in the entrance foyer. It’s believed this equipment was placed there after Sherri was killed. According to the prosecution’s theory of the crime, the attack on Sherri started in the upper level, in the dining room. This was evidenced by the bullet holes in the kitchen patio sliding doors, and the trajectory of one of the bullets back to a wall in the dining room. In the defense theory, that Sherri interrupted a burglary, Sherri and her attacker would have had to have stepped over this equipment at the bottom of the stairs. From the crime scene, we know the attack continued in the entrance way/foyer, where several blood smears and stains were found. In this photo you can also see part of the living room and the stairs up to the upper kitchen and dining room levels.

VCRs and Stairs

Close up of the equipment.


Below is a photo of the ironing board in the undisturbed dining room. If there was a major struggle in the dining room, there is no evidence of it. Safarik mentioned that ironing boards are items that are not very stable and would easily be overturned in a struggle. There has been speculation that Sherri could have been sitting at this table when Lazarus entered her home. Also in this photo you can see some reading materials on the dining room table. Although you can't see it in this image, there was a chair that was pulled out from this table. It's shown on the diagram of the town home unit.

Ironing Board

On the dining room table are the three roses Ruetten gave his new bride the day before to celebrate their three month wedding anniversary. It’s my personal opinion that Ruetten deeply loved his wife.

Roses on Table

Below is a floor plan of Unit 205. It is a tri-level floor plan. The garage area is underneath the kitchen, with the kitchen patio overlooking the driveway behind the unit. Hopefully this floor plan will tie everything in place. You can see by the notations that the blood smears were all in the entrance way foyer and most were very low to the ground. It’s believed the killer dragged or placed Sherri’s body from the foyer to the location where she was found.

Floor Layout - Unit 205

The first time John Ruetten broke down on the stand occurred when DDA Presby asked Ruetten about telling Sherri's parents they were engaged. Nels and Loretta Rasmussen had a boat in San Diego. John and Sherri went down over Memorial Day weekend in 1985 and told them. This is the photo that Ruetten was looking at on the overhead screen that caused him to cry.

John and Sherri on Boat

John & Sherri's wedding.

John and Sherri Wedding


Soapbubble said...

Wow. I am really looking forward to Mr. McGough's book on this case. All this drama over a man who was playing mind games.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing these photos and explanation. I hope Lazarus will get the maximum sentence for this horrible murder.

Sprocket said...

The sentence is predetermined by the California Penal Code at the time the crime took place. Lazarus will be sentenced to 27 years to life. 25 for the murder; 2 for the gun enhancement. If she had committed the murder in today's time, she would be facing quite a bit more time, almost twice as much.

Newspaper reports indicate she could get her first parole hearing in 14 to 15 years.

Anonymous said...

I think the Lazarus case is so sad in so many ways. First and foremost for Sherry losing her life so young and which held so much promise. And actually losing sounds way too nice, this poor woman was savagely beaten and shot in her own home. The terror she must have felt is unimaginable. For her parents who not only suffered her loss, but knowing how she died and for years living without justice from the legal system. I agree with Sprokett here, initially I was quite skeptical of Ruetten but I think he truly was shattered and oblivious. The only part that I do not understand is why there was not greater communication from Sherry regarding her fears of Lazarus, especially to her husband? That one I just cannot answer. She told her father, if she told John then he is not forthcoming. To Lazaurs who now has lost her career, time with her family, her life, her reputation, everything; and her family and friends have to go through all of this. I bet if she had it all to over again, she would choose differently. And the strange part is that she did not go and try to get John back after the murder. It seems Sherry was killed just out of spite. It's all so senseless.

Sprocket said...

The prosecution was not successful in their motions for Nels Rasmussen to testify about what his daughter said to him about being stalked and finding Lazarus in her home, dressed in her uniform, on a prior occasion.

However, during the motion arguments we did learn that according to Nels, his daughter told him she had not told John about the problems she was experiencing. She wanted to handle this herself. That's my understanding from what was argued in court.

I don't think you can fault Sherri for thinking she could handle this herself.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely Sproket, I am sure that Sherry had no idea how serious this situation was for her. This was, I think, before stalking was formally identified as a crime. And she probably didn't feel like she could call the police as her stalker was a police officer.
Thank you for posting the pictures. The most telling for me is the diagram where all of the evidence was found and the picture of the stereo equipment next to the door. It seems highly implausible that a fight could have ensued in the foyer without that equipment being disturbed. It does, as the prosecution asserts, appear that it was placed after the fact.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for explaining sentencing length. I wonder, do you think it likely that although she will be up for parole in 14 years, she will likely serve more time? Does not admitting she killed Sherri affect the decision on parole?

Sprocket said...

In my opinion, it would be highly unusual for a defendant convicted of first degree murder to make parole on the first appearance before the parole board.

It would be my guess that she would have to admit guilt and/or show remorse to gain parole.

Anonymous said...

You know, if I came home to my condo and found this weird cop lady snooping around inside, I would absolutely freak. Perhaps Sherri thought she could handle things because she had been so capable in her education and career. A fatal mistake. Imagine how Nels must feel for not changing his daughter's mindset.

Also, I don't think Lazarus revisited the condo with murderous intent. I believe she was just going on another one of her obsessive expeditions. But surprise! Sherri was unexpectedly home from work. Then push came to shove.. and ultimately murder.

So why didn't Lazarus pursue John after all this? Could be lots of reasons. Maybe she felt it best to "leave well enough alone" especially since the police didn't even question her! In a perverse way, the murder actually pushed Lazarus to move on with her life... until now!

Sprocket said...

I think, you have to keep in mind what type of person Sherri was. She was the director of a specialized care unit, (I believe) the Coronary Care Unit. She managed others. She hired and fired. It's my bet that she thought this was a situation that she could handle.

I don't know why she chose to tell her father and not tell her husband.

Just spitballing here:

There may have been issues in the marriage that we don't know about and may never know about; but keep in mind that's all speculation.

Whatever Sherri's reasons, she didn't tell John.

Nels said (via DDA Presby in argument), something to the effect of, he asked Sherri if John could help her with this problem and Sherri indicated she needed to handle this on her own.

With every case, there are unknowns that can never be answered because only the victim has the answer. I think this is one such issue.

Shannon from Seattle said...

My guess is that Sherri saw Lazarus' behavior as an attempt to reconnect with John, even in a negative way.

After the near breakup I think Sherri made it clear to John that if he wanted it to work with her, then he should stop all contact with Lazarus, which he did.

Bringing John into this issue would cause a confrontation (contact) with Lazarus, when Sherri had a vested interest in keeping John away from Lazarus as they began their married lives together.

Her move was self-assured and mature. It's fair to say that many women would have discussed this with their husbands immediately.

Sprocket said...

I recommend watching the 48 Hours show on the case. Sherri's close friend, Jayne Goldberg alludes to Sherri being suspicious that John might have started something up with Lazarus again.

However, it's not clear to me what she is implying. It's very vague, imho. Maybe Jayne held back on the show from what she knows; it's an unknown at this point.

Jayne was not called as a witnes during the trial. Maybe in the future there is more to know; we'll just have to wait and see.

debbiescalisi said...

Sprocket, What Shannon From Seattle said on April 20, 2012 rings so true: many women would have discussed this stalking with their husband immediately !! I was newly married back in 1986 and if some girl was still even calling Mr. S then, I would have been on the rampage. And sadly, this horrible incident cost Sherri her life because she thought she could handle it on her own. I am also very curious how all of a sudden Stephanie cooled off on John after the murder and didn't really puruse him. Now I am on pins & needles to watch the 48 Hours segment with Jayne Goldberg alluding to the fact that Sherri suspected John may have still been connecting with Stephanie? I am sure that was researched & investigated by the DA's office althought I always had a bad feeling about John not being close to Nels & Loretta after Sherri's death and confiding in them. Like you said Sprocket, we'll just have to wait and see.

Shannon from Seattle said...

Hi Sprocket:

Do you happened to know whether any of the jurors in this case agreed to be interviewed? I have not heard a peep from them.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading your blogs. Also I noticed that you said that if there was any information that was wrong to let you know. I did notice that you have the FBI's Criminal Profiler as Mike Safrik, his name is Mark Safrik. Just giving you a heads up.