Thursday, July 21, 2011

Stephanie Lazarus Pretrial Hearing 6

Updated 9:50 PM below

This is just a short entry to let everyone know that the Stephanie Lazarus case has been set for trial to begin on October 17th, 2011 and hopefully opening statements on October 24th. Jury selection will start on the 17th with pre-screening questionnaires. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for August 15th - 17th to hear two defense motions regarding "chain of custody" and redaction of portions of the video taped interview with Lazarus.

I'll have a complete update on the entire hearing when I get home, since my computer is acting up. I've decided not to stay for the Kelly Soo Park hearing at 11 am.

Update: 9:50 PM
Mr. Sprocket worked for about 4 hours on my laptop today taking it completely apart and replacing some items. It's not totally back together yet but it's functional. Sprocket.

Traffic was exceptionally light driving into downtown LA. It only took me about 25 minutes to reach the budget parking lot. When I arrived on the 9th floor of the Criminal Court Building, Stephanie Lazarus' mother was sitting on the hallway bench closest to Judge Pastor's courtroom. She had an attractive woman friend with her I've never seen before. The friend is about my height with blondish-brown wavy hair about to her upper back.

While I was trying to get my laptop screen to come up so I could check my mail, the friend next to Lazarus' mother asked me, "Did that deputy just come out of the women's restroom?" From where we were sitting, it certainly appeared that way but I smile and told the ladies, "No." I explained that the entrance to the ladies restroom is an alcove where there is also a private elevator/access that the sheriff's use to sometimes bring detainees into courtrooms.

We all smiled and then right after that, Lazarus' mother mentions an experience she had at a business (or a theatre or something like that) where the ladies restroom was closed due to a plumbing problem and the women waited in a line where they had to "share" the men's restroom. We all agreed that in those situations (when there's no other available ladies restroom and faced with a long drive home) you make do and use what's available. It was the first time I'd ever spoken with the woman whom I've sat next to or behind in all the hearings I've attended.

A few minutes before 8:30 am, Mark Overland shows up with one of his private investigators (not Bert Luper; I'm drawing a blank on this man's name at the moment) and the ladies go inside Dept. 104. I follow them in and decide to sit in a different spot this time.

Inside, Nels and Loretta Rasmussen are already in the first row sitting with two other women supporters. I sit directly behind them in the second row. Their attorney, John Taylor is with them. I don't see Greg Fisher, the producer from 48 Hours but the tall, bespeckled Dateline producer is here. Two very young interns from the DA's office soon arrive and sit in the back row. Shannon Presby and Paul Nunez are at the prosecution table. Lazarus is deep in conversation with the defense investigator. She's wearing the white, long-sleeved long-johns type shirt underneath her orange jumpsuit. Presby and Overland pleasantly chat. The two Robbery-Homicide detectives who interviewed Lazarus are sitting off to the right.

It's 8:33 am and Judge Perry is on the bench. From my new seat, I can see that Lazarus is wearing black framed glasses. Judge Perry goes on the record. It's 21 of 60 and there are some scheduling issues. Presby states that he has been in informal conversations with Overland regarding the jury questionnaire. Judge Perry asks Overland, "Mr. Overland, Hows trial preparations?" "Excellent Judge, excellent," he responds. Presby states they've been talking about a trial date, jokingly states he doesn't want to speak for Mr. Overland (Overland, smiling replies, "Don't.") but they have different views on a start date for the trial, in regards to several motions to be heard pretrial.

Overland has filed two today and will possibly file two or three more. Overland tells the court one motion will take two to three days. Overland asks the court to consider getting all the pretrial issues resolved in September and also picking a jury. Then go on recess until the court comes back (from Judge Perry's scheduled vacation). Judge Perry doesn't think it would be "helpful" to select a jury between now and October and go into trial afterwards. Judge Perry would like to set the motions sometime in September. Judge Perry outlines what he thinks is the best course for selecting a jury. He doesn't see this as a case that would have a particularly unusual voir dire, or that can't be dealt with in a (pre?) fashion. Judge Perry asks Overland when he will have his motions ready.

Overland states that one of his motions, he will have to wait for his expert to get samples from the serology lab. This motion is a Kelly-Frye motion. Judge Perry asks if the big motion, (that will take three days) involving "chain of custody" will involve testimony. Overland replies, "Absolutely." Judge Perry then suggests that they do the motions "piecemeal" and Presby states he has no problem with that. (In other words, as the motions are finished, they have separate hearings on them.) Judge Perry states something to the effect that they can take care of them "as they're ripe." (I thought that was an interesting description of a motion.)

Presby informs the court that he anticipates filing two motions and he will have them prepared (later?) today. Judge Perry questions if there will be prosecution witnesses as to the chain of custody. Presby answers that some of these witnesses testified at the preliminary hearing. Judge Perry asks him about the availability of these witnesses and Presby states he has not checked on that yet.

Matthew McGough from The Atlantic slips into Dept. 104 and sits behind me in the last row.

Judge Perry briefly goes over the two motions that Overland has filed. One is to redact portions of the video tape of Lazarus (when she was interviewed in the basement of Parker Center) and the other motion is for chain of custody (two to three days for that) and the last motion, Kelly-Frye, that can't be filed until the expert looks at evidence. Judge Perry asks if there are any others that come to mind?

The people mention that they want to file a motion to have an expert testify if this was a "staged burglary." Presby states that he has another motion, but he would like to talk to Overland informally about it before bringing it to the court.

Judge Perry sets a date of August 15th, 16th and the 17th to do the two defense motions already filed. The issue of availability of witnesses is mentioned again. The Kelly-Frye motion is basically on hold. Presby states that's fine. Judge states that by that week, Overland should have a better idea on the Kelly-Frye motion. Judge Perry asks if once they have these rulings, could they start the trial on August 22nd. Overland quickly responds, "No. There's still some discovery we haven't received." Overland states that they're compiling a list of missing discovery documents that they are going to give formally to the prosecution. Overland states they are having a problem with the "computer issues seized" and they are dealing with Mr. Presby informally on that. "Will I be ready in August, the answer is no."

Judge Perry asks the defense, "What do you want to do?" Overland responds, "Why don't we start after the court's vacation?" Judge Perry responds, "I would start you on the 17th of October. I would hand out questionnaires on the 17th.... (snip) give you a couple of days to process those and come back possibly Thursday or Friday (for voir dire) and start the opening statements on the 24th."

Judge Perry then goes over the options of prescreening the jurors. One option is to have the jury assessment room prescreen. (He goes into detail what this would encompass.) Judge Perry states (the jury room) tells us, that to get a panel of 250 to 300 you have to talk to about 1,000. Judge Perry feels that they should do the prescreening in his courtroom. That a set distribution would be for his courtroom. They would have like, 70 jurors arrive at 10:00 am; 50 jurors arrive at 10:30 am; 50 more jurors at 11:00 am. And we would keep going until (they have what they need for the jury questionnaire). Judge Perry states he would prescreen and announce the case in the courtroom. In his experience, his opinion, this works better than having the jury service prescreen them for the court. Judge Perry states, (with this process) "I think you would have jurors that would want to serve. (snip) I don't think the jury room does a good job of prescreening (jurors), but we can talk about that."

Judge Perry states that with this process, they would have the questionnaires in their hands by the 18th. Judge Perry goes onto explain that since this is not a death penalty case, there will only be 20 peremptory challenges. Judge Perry states his thought is, they could probably go with sixty or seventy at most, to get a base. They will have 12 jurors and 6 alternates. "The advantage in me prescreening the case, is they come here, it's more effective getting a group that will sit on a case. (snip) Then set the next round of voir dire. (snip) My major concern is pretrial publicity.

Overland asks Judge Perry about cameras in the courtroom. Judge Perry states that he has had requests but he has not granted any. Judge Perry states he understands that it is the position of the DA's office not to oppose. The defense states they are opposed to cameras, and Judge Perry responds, "And so am I." Judge Perry states, "I feel having cameras is anti-(ethical?) to the search for truth." Judge Perry then goes onto say that he's been involved in many high profile cases. He mentions the John DeLorean case. "I'm not at all inclined to allow cameras in this court. "

Back to the issue of prescreening jurors. Overland requests the court to prescreen the jurors. Judge Perry states again that it's a chance of getting better jurors is increased. Presby states that's fine with the prosecution. Regarding the jury questionnaire, Perry states, "We may even agree on each and every question..." but it's said with a smile on his face. Judge Perry replies, "And I'm going to strike some."

Judge Perry sets the trial at 0-60 for the August 15th chain of custody hearing. With it set at 0-60, (I) hope we can set trial at October 17th. We will come back with the trial tentatively set for October 17th and opening statements October 24th. Judge Perry also states if the trial goes to Thanksgiving week, we will take the entire week off. It's easier to select jurors if we are not in session the entire week. Once they get closer to the trial date, they will be able to tell more to the jurors.

Judge Perry then addresses Lazarus and asks her specifically if she waives her right to a speedy trial. "Yes, your honor," she replies. "That will be the order then," Perry rules.

Overland has one last issue, in respect to Lazarus' clothing. They want to take her measurements. Perry doesn't have a problem with that. Presby has one other matter that he will speak informally with Overland about. It's regarding the defense firearms expert and releasing property (exhibits) to her for testing. The prosecution want assurances that none of the defense expert's tests will be destructive tests. Overland confirms this. Presby states that the prosecution did get from the defense a list of witnesses. He goes onto say that he has every (belief?) they will have all discovery from the defense (before trial).

I miss something. The deputy is handing back a bag to the friend who came with Lazarus' mother. Maybe this is the clothing that Lazarus is going to try on. Someone states Lazarus is not going to keep them. And that's it. Next hearing August 15th.

Stephanie Lazarus Case Coverage Quick Links


Anonymous said...

Are you covering the Conrad Murray trial also? Looks like it's scheduled to start some time in early Sep.

Sprocket said...

Anon@ 2:54pm

Unfortunately, I will not be covering the Conrad Murray manslaughter trial. Getting a reserved seat for Murray's trial was fierce, and besides, there are only so many trials I can attend.

The upside for the public is, the trial will be televised, so it will be on TruTV's In Session as well as live streamed on the net.

Anonymous said...

This is a case I have followed from the arrest of Stephanie Lazarus. Thanks for your usual excellent report.

David In TN

Unknown said...

Will spectators be allowed?

Sprocket said...


The public is allowed into every courtroom in the US. Judge Perry's courtroom is a small courtroom, and seating may be limited.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for covering this trial as it's tough to find info on current cases (pending) even in the L.A. Times. I live outside of L A County and want to keep up with this case.

I will follow your reporting.

Sprocket said...

Thank you Anon @ 2:42.

I do have a report coming for the hearing held on Sept 1st. There is more DNA linked to Lazarus than just the "bite mark swab."

Unknown said...

What is the status update on this case? Why can't I find anything through google? So strange! This case should be big still!

Sprocket said...

Connors Mommy:

When I put in the words "Stephanie Lazarus" in google WEB, what comes out on top are my reports. If you are searching google NEWS, not much will come up because all that's going on right now are pretrial motions. The MSM must not feel these motions are that noteworthy to report.

There have been three pretrial hearings since this entry, each one I've reported on.

NBC Dateline and CBS 48 Hours are following the case, as well as a reporter from The Atlantic.

Currently, there is not much to report except pretrial motions that have been ruled on by Judge Robert J. Perry.

The trial starts October 16th with jury selection. Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

October 16th is a Sunday

Anonymous said...

I knew Sherri, she was a great person. I remember going with Sherri to a small venue in Mission Valley, San diego, before she was married. We saw Elvis Costello before he was famous. Good memories marred by a murderer!
I want to know what happens in this case. Sherri's parents told LAPD repeatedly about Stephanie's threats on Sherri.

It wasn't followed up. Stephanie lived many years free when Sherri was killed in a brutal fashion. I hope justice will finally be served.

I'm on the east coast now, but do want to know what happens.