Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Pretrial Hearing 14


Sherri Rae Rasmussen

There is a pretrial hearing today in the Stephanie Lazarus case. For those of you who have been living in a cave, Stephanie Lazarus, a 25-year veteran detective of the LAPD has been charged with the February 1986 cold case murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, the new wife of her ex-boyfriend, John Ruetten. Her trial is scheduled to start January 30th, 2012 with jury selection.

Last Friday we learned that the parties will be arguing "chain of custody", most likely concerning the bite mark swab located in the Coroner's freezers back in December 2004. It's also possible the prosecution will be presenting motions for a "402" hearing regarding one or several defense witnesses testimony. What is a 402 hearing? It's a preliminary hearing to determine the admissibility of evidence. It's conducted outside the presence of the jury, or before a trial starts.

I forgot to mention it in my last entry, but Judge Perry did indicate that if they are unable to get through all the motions (or any testimony) today, they will be able to reconvene of Friday, January 27th, 2012. I will have an update later tonight or Thursday.

UPDATE: January 25th, 2012 9:55 am
I've made it to the cafeteria in the lobby with a half hour to spare and purchased my first bottle of water for the day. One of my personal goals for covering this case is to try to stick with water or tea and not slip back into drinking soda for a pick-me-up caffeine fix when I'm dragging. When I walked by the rear entrance windows, I saw Nels and Loretta Rasmussen in the cafeteria. They both smiled at me as I walked by. Both Nels and Loretta have been very polite to me during all these pre-trial hearings.

I don't have any expectation that I will be one of the reporters selected for the pool reporter during voir dire (if Judge Perry even allows a single seat for the media) but I will hang out in the hallway anyway, to see if I can get any information during breaks.

If you are considering attending some of this trial, I recommend getting here before court starts and Judge Perry is one of the judge's who is usually very punctual to the 8:30 am start time. Although there are several lots much closer to the courthouse, I park two-and-a-half blocks south of the Criminal Court Building in Broadway. There is a Joe's Parking on the west side of the street that is only $9.00 per day. All you have to do is walk up Broadway and you can enter the building from the rear. The incline up Broadway is not that steep, even for those out of shape like myself. New management has taken over the dim cafeteria of old but I have not tried the new menu; I usually bring my lunch. The walls are painted some bright colors but the chairs, tables and floor is the same.

The other thing to be cognizant about is there could be long lines to get through building security as well as the time waiting for an elevator. There are only four elevators that go to the 9th floor from the lobby and the area in front of the elevators is often jammed with people trying to get to their courtroom. Then when you reach the 9th floor, there is another security scanning station to clear. I'll try to check back in during the lunch break.

UPDATE 12:05 pm
The short news is, the hearing is over and there will be no collected or DNA tested evidence excluded at trial. The chain of custody issue raised by the defense on several items of evidence was denied. The bite mark swab comes in, as do the torn fingernails, blood stains, blood stain typing, fingernails collected by the coroner and DNA testing done on those items. The evidence collected by investigators that are deceased (Ochi (sp?) and Mahanay will be allowed in. Judge Perry ruled against cameras in the courtroom for opening statements. The court ruled, "Because of my uncomfortableness of where this (case) is going, I'm not going to allow cameras (for opening statements)." (More of what he meant by that in my detailed update.) Judge Perry also limited the number of reserved seats for the defendant's and victim's families to eight seats each.

I'll have a detailed update on the hearing late tonight or later in the week. I'll get to it as soon as I can.


Anonymous said...

Will Stephanie Lazarus' videotaped interrogation be permitted into evidence as well? If so, she's done.

P.S. Great job on keeping us updated on the case. Have a wonderful day!

ritanita said...

Yes! All that "good" evidence is coming in. You've already made my day.

Kathy said...

Thank you for the update. Excellent news that the DNA and bite mark evidence is allowed in. One less hurdle for the prosecurtion and the Rasmussen family.

Charlie N said...

I hope this trial is shown on TV,but I doubt it will be. Maybe a local channel like KTLA or KTTV.

Sprocket said...

Unfortunately, this case will not be televised.

In Los Angeles County, for a trial to be shown on TV, the judge assigned to the case has to agree to allow cameras inside his courtroom. That's the law in LA County.

Judge Perry is very "old school" and as far back as the Public Information Office can remember, he has not allowed cameras inside his courtroom. He also does not allow reporters to use laptops or blackberries to cover a trial. So it's back to spiral notebooks for reporting.

Sprocket said...

Anon January 25th @ 1:52 pm.

Most of Lazarus' video taped statement will be allowed in. There are portions of it that will be redacted.

NancyB said...

I'm thrilled that all of DNA evidence and parts of the videotape are comming in!

Citizens have the right to expect that what is true will be discoverable at trial, and that obvious guilt can surely withstand the test of reasonable doubt.

Legal decisions should make sense not simply to lawyers and judges; they should also appeal to the rightness and righteousness of ordinary people. What is a verdict if it doesn't verify the truth -- not some legalistic stand-in called legal facts, but the actual truth?

It bears noting that travesties of justice happen less frequently in other western nations. Instead of having both sides fight a zero sum game, the winner-take-all, scorch the earth contests that make American trials similar to its sporting spectacles, other countries place a higher value on having both the prosecution and the defense work to uncover the truth. After all, everyone in society benefits when the truth is known and injustice is not allowed to prevail -- in this case, the memory of Sherry Rasmussen, especially.

Fred said...

Thanks for the updates, Sprock! Be careful if you're allowed into the courtroom. Lazarus's eyeballs could send out gama rays and zap you off your seat. She has a freak appearance.

Jane said...

Thanks for your good work. Sherri and I were friends. I now live on the east coast. I'm so glad I can get info on this trial.

Anonymous said...

Have the rush to judgment people forgotten that the DNA envelope was compromised and left with a gaping hole? The LAPD has proven over the years that they are not above reproach. Whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty?"
Or, is this just a "hate all cops" scenerio? I'm disgusted with the comments that drip hatred. You don't even know Stephanie!

Anonymous said...

I am happy the DNA evidence is coming in. I have seen the "tear" on the envelope. It certainly did not compromise the results of the DNA. It matches the accused with a high degree of certainty. Thank God it is coming in!

I don't consort with "suspected" murderers and violent criminals, so you are correct, I don't even know Stephanie.

On the other hand, I am very comfortable her DNA is all over that crime scene.

So happy it's coming in! Lazarus has lawyers. Let them figure out how to explain her DNA all over the horrific crime scene.

Anonymous said...

Your doing an awesome job covering this story sprocket. This case is going to be one for the history books. Keep the updates coming as soon as you have more info, we will be on the edge of our seats.