Judge Robert J. Perry, during the trial
© Thomas Broersma firstname.lastname@example.orgContinued from Part I.....
UPDATED May 17th, 2012 1:20 PM
I've received by E-mail, the full text of John Ruetten's statement to the court. Many thanks to John Ruetten, and those who forwarded it to me. Here it is below. Sprocket.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak during this hearing. There are no words that can describe the loss of Sherri and whole of this experience, so it makes no sense to talk very long. It suffices to say that the Rasmussen family, my family, and Stephanie’s family have been thrust into a bizarre world of disbelief, and indescribable sadness. Sherri Rasmussen had a profound impact on so many people, and I was proud that she agreed to be my wife. It was impossible not to notice Sherri when she entered a room. To me, her physical presence was startling. I can clearly remember the first moment I laid eyes on her. I had just arrived at a party and she was standing in a covered patio area talking to several other people. She was 6 feet 1 inches tall in her high heels, wearing blue jeans, a white blouse, and dangly earrings. I was stunned, but somehow managed to approach her and avoid acting like a complete idiot. She said yes when I called later to ask for a date. When I arrived at Sherri’s house for that first date, she was waiting on the balcony so she could guide me toward her front door. I came to understand that this was just like Sherri. She knew how to make a person feel welcome and at ease. Sherri Rasmussen was a physical presence, and my heart still races when I look at pictures of her. But Sherri was extraordinary more for who she was than the way she looked. She was a hard worker, a consummate professional, a leader, a diplomat, forgiving, tough, and a kid at heart. I was constantly surprised by this amazing combination of traits. Like the rest of us, Sherri was not perfect, but she still deserved to live a long and full life.
For those of us who are directly involved, or those who sat through the trial, we can just begin to imagine the terror and disbelief Sherri must have felt in her last moments of life. I am sure that I am not alone when I say that I just can’t bare thinking about these moments. But Sherri’s loss, the way she died, and the trial 25 years after her death has had a profound impact on many, many others. The effects span a generation, creating pain for those whose lives should have never been touched by this tragic event. Again, words are feeble tools for describing these impacts, but there are so many moments and so very many tears. What I can say is that I have spent, and will continue to spend, many hours praying for everyone involved in this tragedy.
Your honor, I am compelled to end with my feelings for the Rasmussen's. After meeting Sherri, I could not help but notice the central role she played in this fun-loving and down-to-earth family. Nels and Loretta Rasmussen lost much more than a daughter when they lost Sherri. Only they fully appreciate what I am talking about. Despite my own tremendous grief, I must still apologize to them for my inability to coexist with the pain they were enduring. I just did not have the strength. The Rasmussen's have treated me like a son and a brother. Contemplating their profound grief, and the fact that Sherri’s death occurred because she met and married me, brings me to my knees. I do not know, and fear I will never know, how to cope with this appalling fact. I have resigned myself to praying for some measure of peace, and trying to avoid the daydreams about a world where Sherri is still with us, and this pointless tragedy never occurred.
Your Honor, thank you again for this opportunity to speak.
UPDATED May 17th, 2012 for spelling, clarity.
May 11th, 2012 ~ Sentencing Day
As I was waiting in the hallway, just taking in the people who were here.... John Ruetten's friend David Neuman, a male friend with John's sister, Gail, the extended Rasmussen family, I realize that I better take some notes before I'm called to step in line and enter the courtroom. I open my laptop and get a few quick notes written before those of us with media badges are told to line up against the wall for entry into Dept. 104.
From memory, I believe it's Jayne Goldberg's husband who approaches me first to tell me that Judge Perry will not let Jayne read a victim impact statement. Only immediate family. I tell him that I absolutely will publish her statement for her, so her voice can be heard.
When I walk inside Dept. 104, I get a smile on my face when I see head-cowboy, Detective Rob Bub (sitting in one of the plastic chairs against the back wall near the door) and say hello to him. I'm glad that someone from the Van Nuys Homicide Unit was able to attend the sentencing.
As the press enters, we fan out in the first row and take our favorite positions. My friend Matthew McGough motions to me not to sit in my favorite spot, but to sit more towards the center of the aisle, and closer to where the podium is set up in the well.
Familiar faces from the press are Thomas Broersma, Steven Mikulan, the LA Times' Andrew Blankstein, Pat LaLama, Local ABC 7's Miriam Hernandez, and Terri Keith of City News to name a few. The Associated Press reporter is someone I've never seen before. I saw the same Dateline camera crew that was on verdict watch with me back in March. They would be the pool camera.
The media camera is set up at the end of the jury box closest to the gallery. This is probably where either Judge Perry or the Superior Court's Public Information Office has told them where to place it. It's my opinion it's the only location where they can aim their camera at Perry, then Lazarus and also at the podium and try not to film those sitting in the gallery. I've never heard of a Judge in the downtown criminal court letting the media film the jury or members of the public. They control where the media is allowed to set up their cameras.
In the well of the court, there is only one row of chairs set up against the low dividing wall next to the gallery. In those seats are Assistant DA Pat Dixon (who oversees all special prosecution divisions), Robbery-Homicide Detective Greg Stearns (who I later learn came in to court on his day off...that's dedication), and DDA Rosa Alarcon (who worked on the case). In the end chair farthest from me and near the aisle is District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Sherri's family is in the second row behind me along with their attorney, John Taylor. Extended members of Sherri's family who could not attend the trial are here. Her sister Teresa's husband, Brian, sister Connie, Connie's daughter Rachel (who we saw in the Christmas photos as an infant), Rachel's daughter Hannah (4 years-old and adorable; dressed in a pink and white dress with a pink ribbon in her hair), as well as John, Gail, Jayne Goldberg and Jayne's husband Michael. I believe her cousin Robin is in the back row. Jayne gives me a copy of her statement and I tell her that I will be happy to post it for her.
On the defense side, I see Lazarus' mother, Carol. In the front row are her brother Steven, Steven's female companion, and her sister Judi. I see a few other familiar faces whose names and relationships I don't know. At first, I don't see Scott Young, Lazarus' husband. I ask Matthew if he's seen him. Then it comes down the line, I think from Pat LaLama that Young is here, he's in the second row on the defense side near the door. I look again and I still can't see him. And then I realize he must be sitting way back in his chair, hidden from view by the person next to him on his left.
As I turn around and make note of everyone here, I see that Ruetten is holding a typed paper in his hand and reading over it. My prediction was he would give a victim impact statement. I think John is the most misunderstood person in this tragedy. Some have called Ruetten a cad for sleeping with Lazarus while engaged to Sherri. My personal opinion is, he was truthful on the stand, when he testified he was young, he made a mistake and in over his head when it came to seeing Lazarus and agreeing to sleep with her that night. I think the death of his wife completely devastated him. I think it took him years to recover from discovering her murdered in their home. What ever poor judgements he made back then, he's paid for it many times over.
Steven Mikulan, Matthew and I chat about the first Spector trial, getting to know Dominick Dunne, the jury site visit, the LA Times reporter Peter Hong, and how Hong, at the time was trying to cultivate this "boys club" among the press covering the case.
People are still getting seated. Looking back I see DDA James Garrison (who I originally reported looked like he just walked off a beach from surfing) who channeled the "ghost/spirit of Lloyd Mahaney" for the jurors. There are two suited investigator/sheriff types sitting in the gallery along with the press.
The court clerk, Melody Ramarez addresses the room. "Ladies and gentlemen, we're about to start the sentencing." Judge Perry enters the courtroom. He's wearing a bright red tie with his robes and white shirt. The door to the holding cell area opens and Lazarus walks out in an orange jumpsuit. (I didn't think Judge Perry would let her wear civilian clothes like Judge Fidler did for Phil Spector at his sentencing. Spector got to wear his long coat-tails and his page-boy wig. Sprocket) Because of where the deputies surrounding her are standing I am not able to see her give any glances to her family, although I've read in a few press reports that she did. Her hair is not in a ponytail and it does not appear to have been combed.
Judge Perry calls the case to order. Lazarus chats with Courtney Overland to her right. She keeps her head down and away from the cameras. Judge Perry informs counsel he has read a defense motion to correct the probation report. He's provided a corrected report to counsel.
Judge Perry inquires with Overland if there is anything else from the defense and can they proceed with sentencing.
JP: The law allows for certain person(s) to address the court.... (snip) ...allows victim impact statements. (The law?) allows them to express their views. (snip) I require .... statements be made to me and not the defendant.
DDA Presby stands and calls for Loretta Rasmussen, Sherri's mother.
Loretta Rasmussen © Thomas Broersma"Thank you your Honor. Because of a selfish brutal-act of violence Sherri's family, extended family and friends have endured extreme heart ache and pain. A pain for which there is no cure. Everyday we miss her laughter and love. Our hearts and prayers go out to Stephanie's family and especially to her mother."
Loretta quickly sits back down and Teresa Lane, Sherri's younger sister is called. My eyes are already starting to tear up and I don't have a tissue, a paper napkin, anything.
Teresa Lane © Thomas Broersma
"November 23, 1985 was one of the happiest days of my sister's life, her wedding day. It was also my fifth wedding anniversary. Jokingly, I told Sherri it was a good thing she was getting married that day because I could barely fit into my dress, due to the fact I was three months pregnant. I felt so privileged that Sherri and I would be sharing the same anniversary for the rest of our lives. Little did I know three short months later while dealing with my grief and trying to stay calm to not jeopardize my pregnancy, I would be writing this letter to Sherri for her memorial.
I know that you are gone, there are no words to express the pain, but your spirit is still with me. You have left me with the challenge to keep your spirit alive. By meeting this challenge I am giving in return the gift of knowing you, to others, which enables me to never lose the Sherri I love. As always you'll be there to lend a listening ear, share my joys and dream my dreams. This is not too much to ask for all that you have given.
I Love You
Even after writing this letter so long ago I have learned over the years before and during the trial that Sherri still inspires. The prosecuting attorneys, detectives, neighbors, co-workers and the press have been affected by what a great person Sherri was, even though some did not know her personally. Both of my sons know Sherri to be a great and loving person, but I wish they would have had the chance to know her personally. What a gift that would have been. After the trial I have learned about more and more people my sister affected, past and present, and how they were inspired by what a kind and loving person she was. Can you imagine what she would have done if she was still with us?
My husband has told me over the years that I would never be able to understand why someone would take my sister's life and he was right. I do not understand how someone could be so callous and have such a lack of respect for life. What a waste it was to take Sherri's life because she still lives on in all of us.
Lastly I wanted to thank everyone involved on the prosecution team, Shannon, Paul, Daniel and Greg for what they have done for me, my family and Sherri. I want to give a special thanks to Jim Nuttall and his team and the DNA specialist for their unwavering work to bring justice to this case."
Next is Connie Rasmussen, Sherri's older sister.
Connie Rasmussen © Thomas Broersma
"Your Honor, thank you for this opportunity to address the court regarding the impact of losing Sherri.
First I would like to thank Presby and Nunez for portraying Sherri as the vibrant, caring person she was! She is not the contracted victim on the floor.
Sherri was my best friend; we shared problems and secrets, joys and sorrows. She was always there....ready to listen, willing to help, telling you just what you needed to hear.
She was full of warmth, love and caring. She became a Registered Nurse at the age of nineteen. As I reflect back I see her working the 12-8 shift, her long hair pulled back in a ponytail working the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. We often met on our breaks to share our work experiences. She at only nineteen, yet balanced life and death decisions with ease.
Her sense of humor I always admired. She brought happiness, harmony and peace to all those that she came in contact.
She had a special intellectual gift, which she tried to keep a secret, but all that worked with her or knew her, knew she had a special gift, which she choose to use to help others. During our senior year at Loma Linda University she was asked to join Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Professional Honor Society. Because I was not asked as well, she refused to join. We both were inducted after finishing our graduate studies. She always considered others before herself.
We were taught that we should stand up for ourselves and be independent but always knew that our family and the Lord were by our sides for support at all times.
Throughout the closing statements I felt Sherri was present in this courtroom standing up for herself. (In) Sherri's effort to survive, she captured the scientific evidence needed to identify her murderer. It is fitting that science was the key in the prosecution. I can hear Sherri saying with gusto "YES!" because scientific advances had made it possible to bring justice in this case. How fitting that science the field of study Sherri loved, has brought her closure.
Sherri was my sister, colleague and best friend all in one which is rare. I was lucky to have Sherri as my sister, best friend and colleague because she always brought out the best in me. Not a day goes by that she is not sorely missed. I look forward to the day when I can once again, put my arms around her and catch her up on the life events that she has missed. What a joyous reunion that is going to be."
Sherri's widower, John Ruetten is called.
John Ruetten, Sherri's husband © Thomas Broersma
"Thank you for the opportunity to speak. There are no words to describe the loss of Sherri. (snip) Suffice to say the loss of the Rasmussen family, my family and Stephanie's family, have been thrust into a bizarre world of disbelief ... (snip)... (and? indescibable?) sadness. Sherri Rasmussen had a profound impact on so many people. (Ruetten starts to cry and it makes me cry. I try to control myself but I cannot. His grief has a profound effect on me. Sprocket) I was proud that she (snip) ... be my wife. (snip) I can clearly remember the first moment I laid eyes on her. (snip) It was at a party... (Ruetten describes what she was wearing, and that she was six feet, one inches tall in her high heels...) I was stunned."
Ruetten recalls their first date, how he remembers her waiting on the balcony, so she could guide him to the front door. Ruetten's voice cracks again. It's heartbreaking. "Sherri knew how to make someone feel at ease." Ruetten states he's asked to relay a story, about how his father had the opportunity to dance with Sherri at a friend's wedding. Ruetten's voice is barely keeping it together. He rubs his nose several times during his statement. His father was smitten and said something to the effect that Sherri really has got it together.
"Sherri Rasmussen was a physical presence in my life and my heart still races when I look at (photos of?) her. (snip) Ruetten talks about her character. "I was constantly surprised by this amazing combination of traits." (snip) "For those of us in this trial ... (snip) ... we can ...(snip) ...to imagine the terror and disbelief Sherri must have felt.. (snip) .. last moments of life. (snip) We know what Sherri was ...(snip) to do... (snip) She was trying to get away. (snip) All she wanted was to be in her own loving relationship ... (snip) with her own loving family and with me. (snip) Her death (snip) the trial (snip) had had a profound impact on many others. (snip) But there are so many moments and so many tears. (snip) I will spend many hours praying for everyone... (snip)
Your Honor, I'm compelled to end with my feelings towards the Rasmussen family. (She) ...played the central role; she played ...(snip) family. Nels and Loretta Rasmussen lost much more than a daughter... (snip) ...lost Sherri. Only they fully appreciate... (snip) Despite my own tremendous grief, I must still apologize for my ability to coexist with the pain they were enduring. I just did not have the strength. (snip) ...contemplating their profound grief and the fact that Sherri's death occurred because she met and married me brings me to my knees. I do not know, and fear I will ever (never?) know, how to cope with this appalling fact. (snip) ...daydreams where Sherri is still with us... (snip) pointless tragedy never occurs."
Ruetten's voice breaks in his last words to the court.
JP: Thank you Mr. Ruetten.
DDA Presby informs the court that Nels Rasmussen has asked him to read a statement.
SP: How can one (?) the grief and agony of (loss?) a child. (snip) ... by such a brutal and selfish act of violence. Sherri was a (snip) gifted, loving, daughter. (snip) The pain cause to (snip) will never heal.
(snip) Sherri will forever be missed by her (?), family (snip) and society as a whole.
Presby talks about her nursing goals.
SP: We can only guess what great good she might have done (snip) life (snip) had not been so callously taken from her. (snip)
I was not surprised that Lazarus did not speak. I expected that. I am surprised that no one from Lazarus' family spoke, but it may be that Judge Perry did not allow statements from her family. I don't know. (I do know that at the sentencing for Tyquan Knox last November 2011, the defendant's mother addressed Judge Pastor. Sprocket)
I think it's a testament to the Rasmussen family and John Ruetten as well as to the character of these individuals. I'm impressed and amazed that they did not take this opportunity to direct any negative, derogatory words about Lazarus, or express anger or outrage to her specifically. Judge Perry asks Overland if there is any legal cause why sentence should not be pronounced.
JP The sentence (snip) is set by law. I will now pronounce sentence.
I couldn't keep myself from crying during the impact statements. My nose is completely stuffed up. I still have a long way to go to stay emotionally detached during victim impact statements. Years ago Dominick Dunne told me he had the same difficulty; he often ended up identifying with the victim's family.
On count one, first degree murder sentenced to state penitentiary for a term of 25 years to life. For the special allegation of a firearm ... an additional two years. The total sentence is 27 years to life. Defendant arrested on June 5th, 2009. Court has calculated that she has been in custody 1,072 days. She is entitled to good time credits of 536 days; total credits is 1,608. She is to pay a restitution fine of $100.00. She has the right to appeal.
Presby states there is nothing more from the people. The defense gives notice that they are filing an appeal.
JP: This concludes the matter.
Its' about 9:05 AM.
The sentencing took less than 20 minutes, and then it was over. Many people in the gallery, including myself appear lost as we slowly make our way out into the hallway. Matthew wants to make sure he checks in with several people before we make our way to the DA's press conference up on the 18th floor of the Criminal Court Building.
At the press conference, DA Steve Cooley spoke, DDA Presby spoke and DDA Nunez spoke. They fielded a few disappointing questions from the press, mainly from people who did not attend the trial or only attended it sporadically and were not aware of the facts of the case. After that press conference, the Rasmussen family attorney, John Taylor holds a presser in the Temple Street plaza in front of the building. Matthew and I were late to that but did arrive in time to hear John Taylor tell the media that the LAPD should be concerned, and should have questions about three areas in time. The initial 1986 investigation, the early 90's when evidence went missing, and in 2005 when the DNA came back as a female perpetrator.
I believe it was on the plaza when I spoke to Teresa and Jayne about why Sherri didn't tell her husband about the suspected stalking, or her problems with Lazarus. They both said that Sherri was an independent person. She would have wanted to solve her own problems. Sherri would not have wanted her family to "think less of John" which is why she probably did not tell her close friend and family about all of this, or about John sleeping with Lazarus. I believe Jayne told me that Sherri was going to give herself a few weeks to deal with Lazarus on her own, and if she couldn't then she might have asked for help. It was just who she was; her confidence in her ability to handle this herself.
Matthew and I made our way back into the building where DDA Nunez agreed to give Matthew a few moments of his time to answer some questions and I got to tag along. We ended up getting invited to lunch...but lunch and that ensuing discussion was off the record.
Before I left the court building, Teresa and Connie were kind enough to give me copies of their victim impact statements as well as Loretta's. For a long time I contemplated approaching John Ruetten, to ask him if I could get a copy of his impact statement but I never drew up the courage. As promised, below is Jayne Goldberg's victim impact statement, which she gave me.
My name is Jayne Goldberg and I want to thank you for this opportunity to address the court and to talk about Sherri, to speak for all of those friends and colleagues who knew her and loved her… who love her still.
At various times Sherri was my coworker, my boss, my roommate and always my friend. As a compassionate bedside caregiver and a competent and benevolent manager she was well respected by her nursing colleagues. To this day, all of the care I give as a nurse has to pass the Sherri test. Is my care competent? Is it compassionate? As a friend she was generous with her time, fun to be with and so easy to know. To paraphrase Roy Croft, I loved her “Not only for what she was, But for what I was when I was with her”. Sherri was special in so many ways. I wish all of you could have had the opportunity to know her.
Most of all, Sherri was a gentle person who would never, could never have hurt anyone the way she was hurt on that terrible day.
Back in 1982, I took a self defense class at school and Sherri and I would discuss what I was learning. One day she asked me to ask the instructor what to do in a situation where you are confronted by someone with a gun. The instructor said you should either talk your way out or try to get away. I know that’s what Sherri was trying to do. She was trying to get away. She wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. She was just trying to save her own life. A life she had worked for, had dreamed of, a life she had a right to, a life that was stolen from her. She was very accomplished for her age but all she really wanted was to be of service to others and to be in a loving relationship like her own loving family. She had found that loving relationship with John.
The last time I saw Sherri was Sunday February 16th. I had just become engaged on Valentine’s Day and had gone out to Sherri’s to show her my ring. She had been saving her Bridal magazines for me as we both waited anxiously for Michael to pop the question. I remember we were standing facing each other in the living room. When she handed them to me she said, “Jayne, enjoy this time …my wedding day was the happiest day of my life”. The truth is I might not have even started dating my husband if not for Sherri. She was the one who insisted in June of ’84 that I go to the party where that cute Pharmacist was going to be. She had already met John and was incredibly happy with the promise of their new relationship. But it wasn’t enough that she was happy. Sherri was the kind of person who wanted her friends to be as happy as she was.
Before Sherri was murdered, I thought I knew what grief was. As a critical care nurse I had often helped families deal with grief. I will never forget the moment I heard about Sherri’s murder. Until then I hadn’t really appreciated how gut wrenching grief can be. Words can’t describe the shock and pain I felt, how distraught I became as the world suddenly turned upside down. On some level that shock and disbelief never goes away. For weeks afterward it took all the courage I had just to stand upright. I didn’t understand how the rest of the world could go on as if nothing had happened. I wanted to grab people on the street and say. “Don’t you understand? My friend is dead.”
I did eventually go shopping for a wedding dress because, as Loretta said, Sherri would have wanted me to, but I went dressed in black and with tears streaming down my face. Finally one curious consultant asked me if I wanted to get married. When I looked at my wedding photos I saw a blank space where Sherri should have been. To this day I start to weep, even in the grocery store, if I hear a song from the 80’s that reminds me of Sherri. I can’t go to a wedding or a funeral without sobbing uncontrollably. It always comes back to me that one minute we were all so happy at Sherri’s wedding and then just 3 months later all the same people were there, grief stricken at Sherri’s funeral. The sadness will stay with me forever, like a stone in my heart. I will never get over this. There will never be closure.
I never saw Sherri again. We were advised not to see her in the casket, not to have that as our last memory of her. I’ve always regretted not seeing her one last time. Not having a chance to talk to her, to tell her how much she meant to me, what a good and loyal friend she had been, to tell her “I love you”. As a matter of fact until I saw Sherri’s morgue photo during the preliminary hearing I truly believed she was in a witness protection program. Surely she couldn’t be dead. Not Sherri! And then she died again when the cold case was opened, and again at the preliminary hearing and again at the trial and again today…
Anne Marie McDonald, a Canadian writer, says this about grief: “Grief is a fulcrum …The joint in time between the vanishing of hope and the beginning of loss. The missing link…Allows the living to move forward and the dead finally to return, smile, and open their arms to us in memory”. After 26 years of grief, hopefully this verdict, this tiny measure of justice for Sherri will be that missing link that will allow us, the living, to move forward and Sherri finally to return, smile and open her arms to us in memory.
I love you, Sherri. I’ll see you in my dreams.
I know many of you have asked about "when" Lazarus will be eligible for parole. From several LE sources, I've been told somewhere between 14 and 15 years. Although she will be eligible, that doesn't mean she will be granted parole on her first appearance in front of the parole board. That's pretty much an "unheard of" situation. It's my guess that she will probably serve her complete sentence before the board will consider a release. It's my opinion that Laarus would have to admit to the murder and express remorse before ever being granted parole. Matthew found out that the Rasmussen's had their impact statements video recorded for any and all future parole hearings that might happen when they are no longer alive.
As soon as Matthew can get the copy of the courtroom video he received from the NBC camera guy converted to a viewable format, I'll have the complete video of the sentencing up on the web. Also coming will be an audio recording of the DA's press conference and possibly an audio recording of John Taylor's presser. Sprocket
PROSECUTION'S SENTENCING GUIDELINES
PROSECUTION'S STATEMENT OF VIEWS