UPDATE: June 22nd, 2012 1:30 AM, to Factual Error #7
UPDATE: June 23rd, 2012 7:00 PM
ADDITIONAL Factual Error #8
I confess I’m a long time reader of Vanity Fair. I’ve always considered it a quality magazine with experienced, talented investigative journalists. I would wait with anticipation when the next issue came out just to read Dominick Dunne’s coverage of the latest high profile trial he was attending. One of the things I learned sitting next to him for many months in the first Phil Spector trial was getting the story right. I remember the disappointed expression Dominick had on his face when he told me he wouldn’t be at court the next day because he had to spend time with his editor and fact checker before his next article went to press. Although he would miss a day of court, Dominick knew how important it was to accurately source his material and get the facts straight.
So when I finally got a copy of the July 2012 issue of Vanity Fair and read Mark Bowden’s lengthy article on the Stephanie Lazarus case -- which I covered -- I was puzzled because it raised a lot of troubling questions.
When I first read Bowden's article something struck me as slightly off. It had to do with the quoted statements of Lazarus and the detectives. Initially, I thought it was just a matter of Bowden dropping words or smoothing out the dialogue for readability. Then I consulted the transcript of the interrogation and compared what was actually said to the dialogue Bowden quotes in his Vanity Fair article. In multiple places, they do not line up. In at least one instance, Bowden actually adds a line of dialogue that does not appear in the video or transcript. Here is the first dialogue quoted in Vanity Fair:
Vanity Fair Article Page 124:
Vanity Fair Article Page 125:
Bowden shuffled the sequence of what was actually said. Note the numbers of the transcript pages below.
Page 14 of the Official Transcript, Video Time 04:13
Page 17 of the Official Transcript, Video Time 07:31
Page 16 of the Official Transcript, Video Time 05:57
Page 19 of the Official Transcript, Video Time 08:51
I am also compelled to set the record straight regarding multiple factual errors I noticed in the article.
#1.Vanity Fair Article Page 124:
When Stephanie Lazarus left her desk to accompany Detective Jaramillo to the interview room in the jail, she did not bring her weapon with her.
#2. Vanity Fair Article Page 125:
Sherri Rasmussen's sister, Teresa Lane, verified for me that at age 16, Sherri Rasmussen enrolled in a nursing program at Loma Linda University. Years later, she worked as a nurse at U.C.L.A. Medical Center.
#3. Vanity Fair Article Page 129:
The sole mention of Stephanie Lazarus in the Rasmussen case file is a chrono entry on November 19th, 1987. This document was entered into evidence at trial. (Address and phone numbers have been redacted for privacy.) The first entry on that page, dated 11/18, notes the Rasmussen family is flying into Los Angeles on "11/23/87" for a press conference. The press conference was reported on in the Los Angeles Times on November 24th, 1987.
Rasmussen Case File Chronological Record Document
#4. Vanity Fair Article Page 146:
Sherri Rasmussen’s widower, John Ruetten testified on February 15th, 2012 and February 16th, 2012. Ruetten said he reconnected with Lazarus in Hawaii in 1989. Ruetten testified that during the following year and a half, he and Stephanie were sexually intimate on two occasions.
#5. Vanity Fair Article Page 148
There was no evidence presented at trial that proved Lazarus came to Sherri's home that day with the specific intention to kill her. Former FBI profiler and crime scene analyst Mark Safarik testified for the prosecution on February 24, 2012, the 26th anniversary of the murder. I remember that was a very difficult day for the Rasmussen family. In Safarik's analysis of the case file -- the evidence, the crime scene photographs, and after visiting the scene of the crime -- he testified that it is impossible to know for certain the exact sequence of events that transpired when Sherri Rasmussen was killed.
#6. Vanity Fair Article Page 148:
Van Nuys Homicide Detectives confirmed to me that John Ruetten informed them in 2009 that his former girlfriend Stephanie Lazarus was an LAPD officer. When the detectives ran Lazarus’ name through Groupwise, the LAPD's E-mail directory, they saw that she was still on the job and worked downtown in Commercial Crimes. Not a single member of the Van Nuys Homicide Unit recognized her name or in any way considered her an "esteemed colleague."
#7. Vanity Fair Article Page 148:
UPDATE: June 22nd, 2012 1:30 AM
Clip #7 from Vanity Fair, (above) has been updated to include a few more lines of text.
On February 9th, 2012, undercover Detective Roberto Morales, testified that Lazarus was sitting outside in the Costco food court when he observed her drinking from a cup with a lid and straw. After she threw the cup in the trash and walked away Morales retrieved the discarded cup.
In Matthew McGough's article on the Lazarus investigation, published in the June 2011 issue of The Atlantic magazine, he reported that the cup and straw with Lazarus's DNA were collected on May 27th, 2009, and the crime lab completed its DNA analysis two days later on May 29th, 2009.
On February 9th, 2012, Sergeant James Hensley confirmed on the witness stand that he delivered the cup and straw to the crime lab on May 27th, 2009. Later in the trial, Detective Greg Stearns testified that he was assigned the case on May 29th, 2009. This was the same day that the DNA results were confirmed. A special thank you to T&T reader and commenter "EvictObama" for drawing my attention to this additional factual error in Mark Bowden's Vanity Fair article.
UPDATE: June 23rd, 2012 7:00 PM
Additional Factual Error
#8. Vanity Fair Article Page 126:
Bowden appears to be talking about the 1986 investigation, yet the "saliva swab" was not tested in 1986. The "saliva swab" was not located until December 2004 after a search of the Los Angeles County Coroner's freezers. The swab was never tested for blood type. It was tested for DNA in February 2005.
Continued in Part II....