Monday, May 20, 2024

Stephanie Lazarus Faces Full Parole Board May 20, 2024


Sherri Rae Rasmussen,  in her home, Christmas, 1895.
Photo copyright the Rasmussen Family.

A Brief History
Sherri Rae Rasmussen was murdered in her home on February 24, 1986, one day after being married to John Ruetten for only three months. Her murder remained unsolved for over 23 years.

Newspaper headlines shocked the nation on June 5, 2009, when LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus was arrested for Sherri's murder. 

Lazarus went on trial January 30, 2012 and was convicted of first degree murder on March 8, 2012. She was sentenced to 27 years to life a little over a month later on May 11, 2012. Lazarus was sentenced under the guidelines that were in effect at the time of the murder. During her sentencing, sources told me that Lazarus could be up for her first parole hearing in as little as 14-15 years.

While Lazarus was serving her sentence, the California legislature passed laws that impact what the Parole Board can consider when determining an inmate's eligibility for parole, commonly known as the youthful offender statute. Lazarus, who was 25 years old and 10 months at the time of the murder, benefited from this statute.

First Parole Hearing

In November 2023, after serving a little more than 14 years in prison, Lazarus qualified for her first parole hearing under the youthful offender statute. There were two parole board members at that hearing and Lazarus was recommended for parole. Then the decision went to the Governer, Gavin Newsom.

Many of Sheri's family and friends wrote to the Governor Newsom asking him to deny Lazarus parole. Most notably, LAPD Chief Michael Moore wrote a letter recommending Lazarus be denied parole. Here is the letter Chief Moore wrote on January 16, 2024:

In early April this year, Governor Newsom referred the parole decision back to the Parole Board for a full "En Banc" review.  That full board review hearing is being held today in Sacramento. It is open to the public. You can find information about the hearing at THIS LINK.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Murder Trial Starts for Socialite Rebecca Grossman

 Socialite Rebecca Grossman's life changed forever on the evening of September 29, 2020. Prosecutors allege Grossman's Mercedes, driving at a high rate of speed, struck and killed two young boys who were in a crosswalk on Triunfo Canyon Road in Westlake Village, Ca. It was a visual horror for the Isklander family. Jacob, 8, and Mark, 11, Isklander were in the crosswalk with their mother, Nancy when she witnessed her children struck by the speeding vehicle. One child died at the scene; the other died at the hospital.

Grossman is charged with two counts of second degree murder, two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and one count of hit-and-run driving resulting in death. From shortly after her arrest, Grossman posted the 2M bond and was released from custody.

There are several excellent reports on this case in The Acorn and the Los Angeles Times. Some are listed below. Grossman's booking photo has not been released. You can see photos of Grossman at the various links.

On the bench is Superior Court Judge Joseph Brandolino. Deputy DA's Jamie Castro and Ryan Gould are prosecuting. Goldman's defense is led by attorney Tony Buzbee.

I had started following the news reports on this case over a year ago. I had hoped to attend the trial at the Van Nuys Courthouse, located close to where I live. It would have been an easy drive. This is the very same building where I attended my first trial, the Robert Blake murder trial, which started in December, 2004. Back then, I wrote about attending the case on Internet message boards. The Grossman case is interesting because I can see both sides having horrific consequences of this tragic event. The Isklander family lost their two oldest children right before their eyes. Rebecca Grossman, co-director of The Grossman Burn Foundation with her husband, Dr. Peter Grossman is also a mother. She is facing decades in jail away from her children, family and the life she knew. But unfortunately, I can't attend.

There are times when life changes your plans. As most of you know by now, I've been on a cancer journey since being diagnosed February 2, 2021 with Stage IV Urothelial Carcinoma, also known as "Bladder Cancer." There is no cure. In October '23, my care was transferred to a Bladder Cancer specialist at USC. I've been on a new drug since then with a rare side effect of over-histamine production. There isn't a drug that I've tried that dries up my overactive sinuses completely. This in turn, means I have post-nasal drip and a chronic cough. There's no way a judge would allow me to sit in a courtroom in the gallery with a chronic cough. I've had too much experience covering high-profile trials to know I'd be told to leave.
I'll be following this case in the LA Times.

FYI Note: Trials & Tribulations has always been, based on my long-time interest in why people commit murder and a deep love of the law. I would sit in a courtroom and listen to motion arguments or testimony all day if I could. Attending high-profile murder trials has always been a free service of giving back to the community. There is no advertising and there are no membership fees to read T&T content. T&T has received small donations over the years from our readers to cover my travel costs to court and purchase court documents. See my ABOUT page.

Sprocket Note: I've been working on an update post on my cancer journey since last September. Hopefully, I'll get everyone up-to-date soon. Here's a short recap. The good news is, I'm here, on the planet. I'm still on two feet, I can still take care of myself, drive, grocery shop, get to USC, etc., all on my own. However, I have lots of fatigue. I don't have the energy I used to have. I have to rest a lot. The neuropathy that developed in my hands (around late July from the chemo drugs) has made my sewing projects take much longer to complete.

Media Articles
01-16 2024 LA Times
11-21-2022 Los Angeles Magazine - Interview with Rebecca Grossman

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Stephanie Lazarus Parole Board Hearing November 16, 2023

 Full T&T Lazarus archive

Sherri at home, December 1985.
Tomorrow, at 8:30 am, Stephanie Lazarus will have her first parole hearing for the murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, on February 24, 1986. The murder occurred three months after Sherri married the love of her life, John Ruetten. 
For 23 years, Sherri's murder remained unsolved. Lazarus was arrested for Sherri's murder on June 5, 2009, found guilty of first degree murder on March 8, 2012 and Sentenced to 27 years to life on May 11, 2012. She's been in custody ever since her arrest. 
As of tomorrow, Lazarus will have been in custody for 14 years, 5 months and 7 days. Because Lazarus' crime was committed in '86, she was sentenced under California law that was in effect at that time. Back then, the use of a gun only added 2 years to the sentence (25 for murder + 2 for the gun). Today, murder or attempt murder with a gun automatically adds 25 years to a defendant's sentence. 
Additionally, Lazarus earns "good time" credit in custody at a much higher rate than if she murdered someone today. 
I have been told by sources that in her allocution to the parole board, Lazarus will admit to murdering Sherri. I've also been told that John Ruetten will make a statement. 
The current District Attorney of Los Angeles County, George Gascón, has implemented policies that are very favorable to the defendant and not so much to victims or their families. 
One of his first policy changes after he was sworn in, was to forbid Deputy DA's from having any participation or input at parole hearings. This means there is no advocate for victims at these hearings that know the facts and prosecuted the case that could counter any false statement the defendant might make to the parole board. 
Additionally, a lot of the information the parole board receives, such as the defendant's official statement to the board and other documents are not considered public documents. They don't have access to them.
There is another 'thing' in California law called "youthful offender" that the parole board can put a lot of weight into in favor of the defendant. What do you think the top age is for a defendant to be considered a "youthful offender"? It's 26 years of age. Lazarus was 25yrs and 9 months old when she murdered Sherri. I don't know if Stephanie's defense attorney will present a youthful offender argument at her parole hearing, but it is something that the parole board could consider. 
Another thing is, these hearings are all done on Zoom since the pandemic. Because of that, it creates an environment of emotional distance between the witnesses who will be allowed to speak and the parole board. Much different than if you are there in person, speaking to the board. 
Will Lazarus be granted parole on her first appearance before the board, with only serving a bit more than half of her minimum 27 years to life sentence? Who knows. 
Sherri's parents are both deceased. The Rasmussen family, Connie and Teresa, Sherri's sisters, have gathered a lot of counter-arsenal support, despite the obstacles in front of them. One of the DDA's who prosecuted Lazarus, Paul Nunez, now works for the Ventura County DA and is not bound by DA Gascón's policies. He will be one of the family's advocates. Additionally, Detective Greg Stearns, one of the detectives who interviewed Lazarus in that video I uploaded on T&T's YouTube channel, will also be there to represent the family. The Rasmussen family reached out to everyone who knew Sherri, asking them to write letters to the parole board. They gathered as large an arsenal as they could to represent Sherri. 
I did not get my request sent in time to attend as non-speaking media. However, I will be able to receive a copy of the transcript 30 days after the hearing. 
Fortunately, my friend and author Matthew McGough DID get his request sent in on time and will be there as another advocate of Sherri and as T&T's eyes and ears. 
Send some good thoughts and healing energy to Sherri's family and loved ones tomorrow.