Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 15


2-22-2012 Defense attorney Mark Overland,
© Thomas Broersma

It's very possible that defense attorney Mark Overland could rest his case by the end of the day today. If that happens, it's projected there will be no court on Wednesday to give counsel time to prepare for closing arguments. Closing arguments would be presented on Thursday and Friday morning this week and optimistically, the jury could get the case by Friday afternoon.

I'll have an update by lunch today.


We had a bit of fireworks this morning over the testimony of James Nuttall, Van Nuys detective who received the case from Cold Case Special in March 2008 and did the majority of the investigation before the case was handed over to Robbery/Homicide. DDA Nunez was on fire in his arguments to Judge Perry outside the presence of the jury as well as his cross of Nuttall after Overland's initial direct examination. It was evident to those of us in the gallery that Nunez was trying to clear up issues Overland raised in his direct of what Nuttall did when he physically reviewed all the case evidence he requested from the various property storage areas and opened items of evidence for verification. I could almost see smoke coming out of Nunez ears, his body language and forceful tone in his questioning conveyed a sense of indignation that Nuttall's integrity had been called into question during Overland's direct examination.

During the morning break, Nunez and Nuttall had a discussion and when Overland redirected his witness, he asked many questions about what Nunez said to him, as well as asked Nuttall if Nunez told him what to say on the stand. At that point, Judge Perry interjected to say, "The prosecutor is not on trial here."

One of the items in contention between counsel, was a GSR kit listed on the property log and could that GSR kit be one of the ones that was collected by the coroner's office or was it a GSR kit used on the blanket/garment "Snuggy."

Overland called two character witnesses this morning, female friends of the defendant who testified in the many years they knew Lazarus, they stated they never knew her to be a violent person. A custodian of records for Santa Monica Police Department testified about the number of auto property thefts that were also reported on the dated Lazarus' reported her gun stolen. There were two others. In cross examination, the witness testified those property thefts occurred from the trunks of the vehicles and from a different public parking structure than where Lazarus had parked her car.

We broke for lunch early at 11:30 AM when Overland ran out of witnesses. There will be more testimony outside the presence of the jury from DNA SID serology lab acting supervisor Thompson on a specific issue of standards and practices over DNA lab procedures and another analyst who may have performed work on the case.

I will try to have a complete write up very late tonight.

6:25 PM:
Judge Perry ruled that Thompson would not be testifying on the issues Overland wanted to raise. His finding after the additional testimony in the afternoon was that the reports did not have any relevance to this case.

In the afternoon session, Detective Gregory Stearns took the stand to read entries from the defendants journal (or “work log” entries depending on your perspective) and calendar entries where the defendant mentioned interest in other men, coworkers who had an interest in her, men she found attractive or things she did with other men such as lunch, biking or other sporting activities.

Overland rested his case with the jury on the testimony of latent fingerprint expert Andrea Dillion and the unidentifiable prints she submitted to IAFIS. The defendant did not take the stand in her own defense.

Before the jury was excused, Judge Perry went over with counsel the various scheduling options. A juror had scheduled an much needed doctor’s appointment that was important on Friday. Earlier on the same day, her relative, possibly daughter, was being induced for labor and she was traditionally the first one to hold the new baby.

Counsel and Judge Perry went over the various options on this scheduling issue with counsel, taking into account how long each side was going to argue. Nunez who would lead the prosecution’s arguments, stated his closing would be one to two hours, closer on the one hour side. Judge Perry indicated Overland would argue somewhere between four and five hours and Presby bringing up the final closing one hour. Presby was willing to do closing arguments on Wednesday, getting the case to the jury by Thursday but Overland felt he needed time to prepare and requested that closings be moved to Monday. Monday it is.

Tomorrow, counsel will decide on the specific language for jury instructions. Judge Perry indicated he was favoring CAL CRIM. I don’t plan on attending this part of the trial choosing instead to take a much needed rest.

I will be working on getting the detail of today’s testimony finished as soon as possible. After that, put up a Q&A thread for questions until closings. Then I’ll finish up with the final testimony from yesterday.

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 14, Part II

2-10-2012 Judge Robert J. Perry, © Thomas Broersma

AT 8:50 AM, Judge Perry takes the bench. To me, it looks like Overland got his hair trimmed. I believe he used to have more of a wave in the back. His daughter Courtney is wearing her brownish-camel colored pantsuit again. For some reason, I really like this outfit on her. I like how the jacket comes just below her waist.

The people have a couple of issues before they get to the jury. Lazarus has come out with her large brown file-jackets stuffed with papers. DDA Presby states they have a couple of 402 issues with witnesses. Overland wants to call some of the police officers who executed the search warrants of Lazarus’ home, office, locker. He wants to get on the record, the number of items taken during the search. Presby is objecting because he does not see the relevance. (snip)

I believe it’s Overland who counters, that it’s not just the sheer number of items. It’s items that went back to the 1980’s. It has to do with the bullets that they recovered from her locker and her home. There were no bullets that matched the type of bullets (recovered by the coroner).

JP: Were bullets taken from the home.


JP: From her locker?


Judge Perry then gives what he thinks is the defense’s position, to counter the prosecution. “The defense position (is) they really went through this place and really didn’t get anything. I don’t know. I haven’t seen the (retur? entire seizure list?) (snip) ...strikes me we’re getting into a 352 area, why things were not taken and speculating about that.”

SP: Many of the things were returned on the courts order some seven months later.

MO: I think the issue is hundreds of bullets from (the home; locker) and nothing (matched the 42A & 42B bullets recovered).

Overland thinks there are two parts. How thorough and what was recovered.

JP: I don’t think the thoroughness has (any relevance) but the number of bullets has relevance. (snip) I am allowing (relevant? number of) bullets seized.

SP: We will prepare a stipulation on bullets recovered from the house and locker.

MO: The additional search of her old locker at Internal Affairs, subject to (receiving?) of her gun and bullets.

SP: The characterization as a “search” is incorrect. Two years before, at another department of LAPD, was clearing out space, old lockers with new locks, old gun and uniforms belonging to the defendant are found. It’s not related to a search.

JP: Can you date that?

SP: It was before she became a suspect.

MO: That’s incorrect. A (?) contacted Robbery/Homicide and tried to open the locker.

SP: He called the Robbery/Homicide group that he had cleaned out locker two years earlier.

JP: So what is the relevance from the old locker?

SP: There wasn’t a search so there wasn’t an inventory.

Presby asks about the cross of character witnesses to impeach with other material. (snip) “I believe it’s broad (the Calif law that allows this). (snip) It is a report from victim’s (father) weeks and months before her death by the father.”

The defendant came into her town home before the murder. The victim reporter to the father that she was at home and John was absent. She came upon the defendant inside the town home. That the defendant was in uniform and a confrontation occurred inside the town home and the victim told the defendant to get out. This was before the marriage, after John Ruetten had moved in, late fall, 1985.

The victim made a more detailed account when the defendant came to the work place in 1985. The interview with Detective Nuttall, the report of the victim that she reported to her father, previously in (the prosecution’s) case in chief.

Certain applications to test a witness.

JP: The father conveying to Nuttall...

Father told original detectives in 1986 and was ignored repeatedly.

SP: When investigators reopened (the case) he said, “I tried to tell you about this.”

His statement is corroborated by the defendants own statements (that she confronted the victim at work) maybe 1, maybe 2 maybe three times.

SP: We believe it was many times at the hospital and at the house.

Judge Perry asks a question as to whether or not the victim notified her husband about these encounters.

SP: Yes, and Mr. Rasmussen (said?), ....and said she did not. (snip) She intentionally did not tell John, did not want to acerbate (the situation?) any further. (She) wanted to handle it on her own. (The) calls to her father were extemporaneously. (snip) She called her father the night the victim found the defendant in her home.

Judge Perry goes over the law.

JP: I have no doubt of the good faith (of the prosecution? of their information? witness?). I’m just not comfortable with it. (snip) This has been around (the law?) for a long time.

Judge Perry goes onto character witnesses,. Goes over what may (be used to?) test (a witness’ credibility) (snip) My understanding, unlike the federal law (these questions can be asked in California) to ask, have you made an opinion based on facts of the case?

Is the testimony about contact at place of work. We don’t have specific details to the specific nature of that (confrontation?).

Judge Perry mentions something

JP: I’m just not going to allow you (prosecution) to do it. I think I’m going to exercise discretion; 352. (snip) Character evidence is framed by opinion....

Presby makes one last effort to be able to cross the defense character witness with the questions he wants to ask.

SP: Not only able to ask if you knew questions... (miss the rest of the argument).

JP: But (?) again, don’t spend all day on it. (snip) I’m not going to allow any questions of the facts of the case.

SP: Defense investigator asked several questions of the witness, “Do you believe the defendant committed this crime.”

JP: I’m not going to allow it.

Overland interjects and asks Judge Perry if the prosecution will be able to ask questions of the witness regarding if you knew questions verses the facts of the case.

Judge Perry, almost on the verge of sounding irritated responds, “That’s what we’ve been talking about.”

Judge Perry cites California case law. It allows the prosecution to ask, ‘Have you heard? Do you know.’

JP: That’s the danger of calling character witnesses. Federal court calls that to be reversible error.

Then I believe Judge Perry cites the California case that allows those types of questions in California.

JP: I’ve cautioned the prosecution not to ask.

Judge Perry then gives an example but I’m not quick enough to write it down.

MO: My response to that. I don’t believe it stands (the California law) to that. Federal law stands on due process law (13th? 14th? Amendment) and what (Lee?) says. If questions are asked of character witnesses of the facts of the case, it will violate the defendants right to due process.

JP: I’m glad we’re having this discussion. The prosecution is well aware of the risk. but indeed, Federal rule is you may not ask the questions. I’ve researched this to the best of my abilities and California law allows it. I’m not going to preclude the prosecution from asking the question.

SP: The judge can instruct the jury that it’s to test the opinion and not the truth of the case...

JP: I’m going to allow some, subject to 352.

Presby states there is one other matter and Nunez gets up to state the issue.

PN: There is a witness on the defense, referred to as a “lab director”, some description related to LAPD lab.... (discovery?) SID laboratory.... was there two analysts not involved in the case removed from testing in 2003 or 2004 and another removed from testing in 2007. (We) don’t see the relevance to those two non-involved witnesses.

JP: Mr. Overland, what’s the relevance?

MO: He’s being called to testify about inspection reports and how they are conducted by another source and numerous violations in the lab....(snip).... and there after accredited... 1998 (accreditation) test resulted in inadequate safeguards in the lab.

JP: Do you want to hear this outside (the presence) of the jury?

PN: Yes.

JP: Are you ready to announce?

SP: We’ll read a stipulation and then we will rest.

A gentleman enters the well that has a particular look about him and someone in the gallery whispers a joke I overhear, “What’s F. Lee Bailey doing here?”

DDA Nunez stands in the well with his arms crossed over his chest.

At 9:30 AM the jury is called in and we finally go on the record.

Judge Perry tells the jury they are still technically in the prosecutions case-in-chief.

DDA Presby gets up and reads a stipulation to the jury. First, he marks documents into evidence. The documents are not identified specifically other than they are multi-page documents.

SP: I’d like to read a stipulation.

Judge Perry interjects and then explains to the jury again what a stipulation is.

SP: The People of the State of California (and the defense) agree the following items (that) were collected are authentic copies of items listed.

And then Presby runs through a whole list of photographs of items, some of them items seized from the defendant’s home, such as the computers and hard drive towers. Other items of evidence agreed upon are reports generated from those computer items.

There is a further stipulation that a custodian of records (and I miss the individual’s name because Presby says it so fast) regarding the last pieces of prosecution evidence entered into the record and defense quadruple D, were made in the regular course of business and are true and accurate copies.

The prosecution and defense also agree that an SID criminalist in 1986, (Doraine? Muzac?) on February 28th, went to 7100 Balboa Blvd and collected from a cloth a red stain from stairwell, 18: south of the garage wall, going to the (garage), evidence item #13.

They further stipulate photos seized from the home Evidence #163, 164, (and then he lists of a bunch more evidence numbers, about sixteen or more), and Defense EEE1, EEE2, EEE3 were taken from one of those photo albums.

SP: Move into evidence subject to acceptance and the people rest.

We are now waiting for an interpreter so that a witness can testify. The interpreter arrives, Victoria Carro.

#1 EVANGELINA FLORES (Evangalina?)

Overland first asks her if they have ever met before.

EF: No.

She was a housekeeper for 7100 Balboa Blvd, Unit 206, owner Michael Rosenberg.

MO: Do you specifically remember the day of February 24th, 1986?

EF: I remember it was a Monday. I would usually go to that house on Monday.

MO: Do you mean apartment?

EF: Yes, apartment. (snip) I would usually get there between 8 and 9 AM.

MO: IS that next to Apartment 205?

EF: Yes. He was the corner unit, the last one in that area.

As you walk out of unit #206, #305 was to the right.

MO: On about 12:30 PM in the afternoon, did you hear something?

EF: I was going from the sitting room to the dining room. (snip) When what I saw what was going to wall, to my left. (snip) When I hear a sound coming to wall from my left.

MO: Where were you (when you heard the sound?)?

EF: I was on the lower floor going upstairs to the dining room. (snip) My understanding is, all the units were the same.

I believe she explains further.

MO: So you were walking up the stairs to the living room and dining room?

EF: Yes.

MO: What kind of noise did you hear.

EF: First heard sounds as if a fight was going on. Then heard a very loud violent sound. Then a second one.

MO: Did you hear anyone scream?

EF: At this time, I don’t remember but maybe I could then?

MO: Do you remember being interviewed by the (detectives back in 1986?)? (snip) Was the interview by police that evening?

EF: Yes.

MO: Do you remember telling them you heard a sound like a door slamming?

EF: Yes. Because you could hear loud sounds like this.

MO: Do you remember telling officer that you heard a scream?

EF: I now remember that after that striking sound, (I) remember hearing that something fell, (a) sound like that.

MO: Could you tell whether the sound you heard was from a male or female?

EF: No.

MO: What did you do after you heard the first sound?

EF: After hearing that, everything was silent. Then I heard a car drive off. (snip) I looked out the kitchen window but I couldn’t see (anything). (snip) Yes. A car drove off.

MO: No. My question was when you spoke to officers in 1986, you were asked whether you heard a car and you said you did not.

EF: It’s possible. I was very nervous back then.

MO: Are you nervous now?

EF: Yes.

MO: (Well, don’t be.) Do you think you remember better back then than better today?

EF: Yes. Of course.

MO: Did you ever go downstairs after you heard the noise?

EF: No. I kept doing my job.

MO: But after the sounds you heard, there was total silence?

EF: (Yes.)

MO: Did you look out the bedroom window?

EF: Yes. But you can’t really see anything there.

MO: Did you ever go out to take the trash out?

EF: No.

MO: Do you remember telling the detectives in 1986 you went to take the trash out?

EF: Yes, but not outside, to the garage below.

MO: Did you ever go to the front door of Unit #205?

EF: Yes, when I was ready to leave. (snip) About 2:00 to 2:30 PM in the afternoon.

MO: Did you see if the door to #205 was open or closed?

EF: No. Everything was silent as usual.

She was interviewed by police on May 14th, 2009. At that time she told detectives she heard the noises around 11:20 AM. She said that she was estimating the time. She didn’t look at the clock. She told the officers back in 1986 that she heard the noises at 12:30 PM.

EF: When I first went to the police station, so it was more recent. So I remember when it happened.

She went to the police station that same evening.

MO: And at that time you told officers you heard noises at 12:30?

EF: As I said, before that night, my memory was very fresh.

Overland now wants her to read her statement. Presby objects, asked and answered. Judge Perry takes over.

JP: You were interviewed that night this thing happened?

EF: Yes.

JP: You told them (snip) the best of your memory then?

EF: (Yes.)

MO: Actually you did tell them it was 12:30?

I believe she answers yes again.

Direct ends and cross begins.

DDA Presby crosses the witness.

SP: You were interviewed three times? (snip) Once in 1986, once in 2009 and once...

There is a long convoluted answer, something about her daughter, a teacher being with her and her daughter listening to the questions... and I believe either Presby or the Judge interrupts and asks her a different question.

SP: In the first time you told it was 12:30 in the afternoon you heard sounds? (snip) Second time (you told detectives?) you said it was about 11:30? (snip) Third time (you) said it was (?)? (snip) So, when you heard those sounds, did you look at a clock?

EF: No.

SP So when you heard those sounds, you were giving your best estimate?

EF: Yes.

Presby goes over the sequence of events and the sounds she may have heard again.

SP. When all this happened, your employer Mr. Rosenberg wasn’t home?

EF: No.

SP: And after you heard these sounds, you went back to work?

EF: Yes.

Cross ends and redirect begins.

MO: Did you have a certain routine tat took a certain amount of time, say, clean (certain areas at a certain time)?

EF: First, I check the living room. I was not stationary in one area. I would have to go to the laundry room.

I miss the last question and there’s no recross.

DDA Nunez is sitting sideways, watching Overland’s direct. His elbow is on the arm of his chair and his closed fist over his mouth. He’s moving the muscles of his face in some way.


Ms. Mendoza is dressed very nice. She’s wearing a black outfit (or top; I miss seeing her take the stand) with a pearl necklace. She has short, sleek black hair to the middle of her neck.

MO: Do you know Stephanie Lazarus?

SM: She’s my cousin and my friend. I’ve known her virtually all my life. (snip) The last time I actually saw her was August 2nd, 2008. It was my 50th birthday party. She was attending that day.

Overland wants to put up a photo from the birthday party. There is some kind of objection from the prosecution. While counsel are at sidebar, I see defense investigator, Mr. Later, whispering with Lazarus at the defense table.

The photo of the party is put up on the overhead screen.

MO: Besides Ms. Lazarus, do you know anyone else in the photo?

SM: Carol, her mother to the left. I believe that’s Steven and Scott.

MO: Who is Scott?

SM: Scott is Stephanie’s husband. (snip) This is not my birthday party. This is another party at my house.

MO: Were you ever present at her home?

SM: Many times.

MO: Were you ever present at her daughter’s first birthday party?

Objection! 352! Sustained!

Mendoza testifies that when they were younger the were very close. In their 20’s, going to movies, dinner, and parties. As they grew up they had children, and went to each others birthday parties, children’s parties.

MO: Did you have close contact with her in the 1980’s?

SM: Yes. (snip) (I) started nursing school in 1982. Stephanie was starting the police academy and we would do social things.

MO: (Did you see each other every day?)

SM: We saw each other several times a month, doing social things.

MO: Did she every mention anyone by the name of John Ruetten?

Objection! Sustained.

MO: Did she ever mention any of her boyfriends?

Objection! Hearsay! Sustained!

MO: Did you have a break-up with a boyfriend?

Objection! Relevance! Sustained!

MO: Did she ever help you with your break-up of your boyfriend?

Objection! Sustained!

MO: Did you think because of your relationship, you think you know her character?

Objection! Vague! Sustained.

MO: What kind of character...

Objection! Vague! Sustained!

MO: Do you have an (opinion about Ms. Lazarus being violent?)?

SM: I can’t imagine her being violent in any (of the?) farthest reaches of my imagination.

Objection! Sustained! Move to strike!

MO: Do you think she is a violent person?

Objection! Sustained!

Overland asks to approach.

Judge Perry chooses to send the jury out.

JP: The problem I have Mr. Overland is it’s too broad. I think you have to establish a foundation, but to ask the kind of questions you asked if she (thought?) (snip) she can do (this?) .....

I think Judge Perry then gives Overland an example of how he can ask the question. “Have you ever seen her act toward another person?” Judge Perry then goes onto explain the next question that he can ask.

PN: We never received this statement from this person. (snip) There were no questions like this that (the judge just presented that were acceptable).

Judge Perry further explains how he would like Overland to go about this questioning. Overland tells Judge Perry he wants to ask if Stephanie ever reported a gun stolen. Judge Perry states that’s hearsay. Overland argues that this is a prior consistent statement. Judge Perry responds, “Not as I see it.” The jury is brought back out.

MO: In all the years you’ve known Ms. Lazarus, have you ever seen her act in any way, a violent manner?

SM: Never.

MO: Do you have an opinion (as to whether or not she could be violent?)?

SM: Not from the farthest reaches of my mind.

Direct ends and cross begins.

PN: You’re not familiar with the facts of this case?

SM: No.

PN: You’ve never had contact with your cousin at work? (snip) Your contact with her was at, was on social occasions, social events?

SM: Yes, yes.

PN: Family events?

SM: Yeah.

Cross ends and there’s no more direct.


Retired LAPD Officer. Employed from 1981 to April 2011. He got to know Stephanie Lazarus. He was assigned to patrol in Devonshire Division. Kirk is not positive about the time frames, from 1985 to 1986 when he knew Lazarus. During that time he went to Lazarus’ residence. She lived off of Rinaldi, near the 405 Freeway. It was a condo. He went to dinner there, but not often. The only time he went to her house was while on a work sanctioned dinner break.

Kirk also knew an officer John Ross, assigned to the Devonshire Division and a personal friend. Kirk does not recall if he ever saw photographs at Lazarus’ condo. He doesn’t remember if he ever saw a photograph of “that” individual.

RK: I don’t remember photographs from Ms. Lazarus’ home 25 years ago.

MO: Do you recall meeting with Stephanie Lazarus at a doughnut shop with Ross and another officer by the name of (Denford?)?

RK: I don’t specifically remember. You could meet like that six or seven times a year. I don’t remember that specifically.

Overland shows him a diary entry from Lazarus “work log” or “journal” and asks him to read it to himself to see if that refreshes his memory.

RK: It doesn’t ring any bells.

There is no cross of this witness.

The morning break is called. DDA Nunez tells me he was told to show me his tie. I’m in the back row speaking with the sisters who came to court and I squint to try to see it. It’s a dark navy tie, with thin quarter inch angled stripes about every two inches. At 10:40 AM the morning break is over but now we are missing Overland. Two minutes later he reenters the courtroom. One of the reporters reads a book while we wait while others do some last minute texting while we wait.


Alexander is retired from the LAPD. He was with the department for 31 years. He started in March 1978 and retired in August 2009. He knows the defendant. They worked together in a patrol car at Devonshire Division, 1985 to 1986.

Overland shows the witness duty rosters and patrol logs for February 25th, 1986 and February 27th, 1986. He recognizes the documents and identifies them. On those two dates, he was assigned a patrol car with the defendant.

MO: In the first column, what is assignment 849?

MA: That was the unit designation for that night (shift), a 2 person car.

(This confirms what I was not clear about in the prosecutions case. When Lazarus worked on February 25th, 1986, it was an evening shift.)

Lazarus was assigned to the car with him. For both of these dates, Overland asks the witness many questions as to whether or not he remembers Lazarus having any injuries on her such as a black eye or scratches, or complaining about any injuries. He does not recall any injuries or think that she had any.

MO: Did you observe how she dealt with situations that caused for the use of force?

MA: I can’t recall.

MO: Do you ever recall during that one year (per?) (were you able to?) form an opinion whether she was a violent (op? person?)?

I miss the answer. Direct ends and Presby performs the cross.

SP: Do you have an independent memory of February 25h, 1986?

MA: No.

SP: Do you have an independent memory of the calls you went on? (snip) Of what the weather was like? (snip) Do you remember what she looked like back in 1986?

MA: No, no, no.

SP The only way you know you ever worked with her (is by reviewing the logs)? (snip) How would you describe her physical strength?

MA: Above average.

SP: Did she work out? (snip) Did she run? (snip) Did she lift weights?

MA: Yes. Yes. I don’t recall.

SP Do you have an independent memory of (her taking someone into custody? of taking her into custody?)?

MA: Not that I recall.

Cross ends and the witness is finished.


Wade is an LAPD Officer. He is a Lieutenant, II. He knows the defendant but he doesn’t “know” her. They’ve met. they met in February, 2009. The office where he works, Internal Affairs Division, was being cleaned out. They were replacing the carpeting and there were lockers that needed to be moved. There were four lockers that still had locks on them after all the department employees were notified to clean out their lockers. The last time the unit had those lockers cleaned out was before he arrived in 2005.

They cut the locks on the remaining lockers (four). Two lockers belonged to Lazarus. Once the cut the locks and emptied them out, notified officers to claim their belongings. In the two lockers used by Lazarus, he found several uniforms, a 4” city issue revolver, a revolver he recognized as one the city issued and a matching holster that was city issued. There were bullets in there also, 38 Plus P bullets. He doesn’t recall how many bullets there were.

There are more questions about the ammunition found. He did not inventory the ammunition.

On cross examination, Wade states that the revolver he saw was a four-inch barrel weapon. I believe he testifies that the ammunition was not the type issued in 1986 but the current issue ammunition for that time.

The jury is sent out for a 402 discovery about the next witness’ possible testimony.


Employed by the LAPD SID. He is acting assistant director overseeing the the serology lab for the last three years. He’s been with the department since 2003.

Overland asks him a series of questions involving the annual review/certification of the LAPD lab with ASCLD/LAB. He has him read findings from a report issued in 1998. He’s just reading from the report. He was not involved in writing the report. After several questions, Judge Perry states, “I don’t see what the relevance would be.”

Overland responds something to the effect that the relation is (the lab?) is deficient in lab during that time and the jury (will?) determine (when?) items became in the possession of the lab.

JP: I don’t understand the argument.

Overland states that this is in relation to the GSR kits. He argues that the discrepancies in the property room log about the GSR kits means the log is unreliable.

JP: I think the destruction of the kits was explained (in the destruction records). (snip) I don’t see how we get there. (snip) Why don’t you go onto the next issue. I don’t this it’s relevant to know the deficiencies in the LAPD lab in 1998.

Overland now asks the witness about another document and the results of an inspection in 2004. He may have been a supervisor on the unit when the reports were filed. After a few more questions, Judge Perry interjects.

JP: I want to hear more about the 2004 and 2009 reports. I have a lot of trouble with the 1998 reports and they seem too remote in time. I don’t think it’s helpful and I think it will mislead the jury.

The witness reads more sections from the 2004 report.

PN: I object that this witness is only testifying by reading from the report.

There is some more testimony.

PN: Is counsel going to (have the witness?) (testify?) to the reliability....?

MO: I’m just asking questions an he’s just giving answers.

Another issue is presented in the report. I see Nunez expend some energy by spinning/twirling his pen on top of his fingers again.

After the witness reads several more sections from the report, Judge Perry states, “I think the best thing would be to give me copies of this document. (snip) Mr. Thompson, you’re going to have to come back later.”

Judge Perry asks Overland to call his next witness. Overland states the next witness was scheduled for after lunch. Judge Perry states to call the jury back out so he can dismiss them for lunch. Judge Perry asks Overland if he can get his witness here by 1 PM. Overland states he could try.
Judge Perry dismisses the jury early for lunch and has them come back by 1:15 PM. He apologizes to them for the delay.

The jury is dismissed and then Judge Perry asks Thompson a few questions.

JP: Mr. Thompson, can you tell me was the LAPD lab ever accredited?

JT: 1998.

JP: As far as you know, it still accredited?

JT: As far as I know.

Thompson describes that independent auditors review lab procedures every two years and in the off years they perform their own internal audit.

JP: Thank you very much. We will let you know (if we need you back).

Judge Perry asks counsel to identify the particular parts of the 2004 and 2009 reports that are relevant to this case.

And we finally get to go to lunch. The sisters take me to lunch at Pit Fire on the corner of 2nd Street and Main.

After the lunch break, we’re back inside the courtroom. There were two more ladies who had come to court today that greeted me in the hallway. They said they came to court because of my descriptions on the blog on how to attend the trial.

When I sit down in my favorite spot in the front row at about 1:05 PM, DDA Nunez asks me if I have an “entourage” now. I reply, “I tell people that want to come (to court) how to come so they come to the trial.”

I see that the prosecution’s firearms expert, Daniel Rubin is in the well. He sits at the prosecution table next to DDA Presby. This is standard that the opposing side can have their expert witness sit in to listen to the other expert’s testimony.

I note that DDA Presby’s tie has a slanted stripe also. It’s in the opposite direction of DDA Nunez’ tie.


Fant is a self employed, independent firearms examiner, and on the witness list with the LA County Superior Court. She was a deputy sheriff for (?) number of years. She then transferred to the Los Angeles County crime lab. She worked there for six years. She retired in 1999. Fant gives her CV. She’s performed abut 9,800 comparisons and has testified in federal and municipal court about 140 times.

(I’m pretty wiped out. It’s 1 AM and I need to get some sleep. I will continue with my notes on FANT on the train tomorrow morning, or later. Sprocket.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 14


I’m on the Red Line train, hoping there isn’t much rain in downtown Los Angeles. Three sisters who are T&T fans are going to try to get a seat today and have offered to take me to lunch. (I probably won’t have a lunch time update today.)

The prosecution is expected to rest their case first thing this morning and enter into stipulations with the defense, on certain aspects of the case that they agree upon.

I have been working on updating the witness list and I’m almost finished. On the witness list page, you will find every witness who has testified in the trial to date, links to the trial coverage for that date as well as a short synopsis of their testimony. The prosecution has called 53 witnesses in their case-in-chief. I have no idea how many witnesses Overland plans to call for the defense or who will be first up on the stand.

Overland called six witnesses today. There was an additional witness who testified outside the presence of the jury. Judge Perry has not made a final ruling on this witness and whether or not he can testify. He will make a ruling tomorrow.

From the conversation counsel had with Judge Perry at the end of court today (Overland ran out of defense witnesses before 3:00 PM) it looks like the defense will rest at the end of the day tomorrow! Wednesday would be a day off to prepare for closings and closing arguments would begin Thursday and run into Friday morning. DDA Nunez stated his closing will be about 2 hours. Overland stated his would be not more than 4 hours and Presby stated his end closing would be about 1 hour. Then there's also the jury instructions. Those can take 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the instructions. It's very possible the jury could get the case as early as Friday afternoon. Counsel will go over jury instructions to see if they prefer CAL JIC or CAL CRIM instructions.

I will be working all evening on getting my notes up on the witnesses who testified today, so please keep checking back.

Court resumes tomorrow at 8:30 AM.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

T&T's Fan Mail, AKA "Letters to Sprocket"


It wasn't long after I started Trials & Tribulations covering the first Phil Spector trial, that I started to receive fan E-mail. Most of the fan mail I received was encouraging, because I was writing about things that the main stream media didn't talk about. Every once in a blue moon, I'd get a letter where the reader wasn't completely happy with my trial coverage. It's been several years since I've received a letter like that, so it was a bit of a surprise when I got home from court on Friday, February 24th, 2012, and read the following E-mail: (I have respectfully not published the writer's name and I am sharing my response.)

While I enjoy most of your trial reports, some of your material is of absolutely no relevance to the trial. Paging through 3-6 paragraphs describing the wardrobe of various individuals (some totally tangential to the trial itself) is irritating for anyone wanting to know "what happened in the courtroom". Spending more time providing timely daily reports "of the trial" is of infinitely more value than a description of the color, fabric and fit of the outfit worn by the attorneys or individuals in the gallery. Please, give us the facts of the trial, as quickly as possible. Thank you

Dear T&T reader,
Thank you so much for taking the time to write and letting me know your opinions about my trial coverage. I feel the need to introduce myself because you might be under a misconception about this blog. I am Betsy A. Ross, a semi-retired housewife and I started T&T about five years ago. My blog started out as a diary or journal if you will, about my experiences attending a criminal trial in person. I wanted to let others know what it was like, for me, to go to court and sit in the gallery and watch the legal process unfold up close and personal.

There's a large community of people on the web who watch trials on TV or online, who would love to attend a trial themselves but are unable to do so. My trial coverage is aimed at those readers. I try to give the T&T reader a sense that they are sitting beside me in court, experiencing what I'm experiencing, seeing what I'm seeing and hearing what I'm overhearing. And, if you take the time to read the comments left on the stories I publish, most readers appreciate my unique style of reporting. I write about what people wear, what I see people do and hear them say because a trial is a real-life drama on a stage where everyone has a part; not just the parties in the well of the court, but those in the gallery as well who may be related to the defendant or victim.

In January 2011, with my large body of work as just a regular citizen, the LA County Superior Court acknowledged my trial reporting efforts and now recognizes me as being a member of the media. I am honored to be included with some of the best names in criminal court reporting. Over the years, T&T has added other contributors who report on issues they're concerned about, cases they either attended or watched online, as well as guest writers who also cover criminal cases.

You should know that not a single contributor or guest writer gets paid a cent for their work. All the time and effort T&T's writers put into a story is donated and we don't have an editor or fact checker. No one writing for T&T is affiliated with any mainstream news organization and the only advertizing you will ever see on the blog is for my own modest, seasonal sewing business.

I don't expect to please every reader 100% of the time. I know that my style of diary-like reporting is not for everybody. However, I do believe that I provide the most comprehensive, detailed coverage of a case that you will find anywhere on the Internet or in print. Hopefully, with this information, you might have a different perspective on what T&T is all about. Thank you again for writing.

Betsy A. Ross, Owner,
Trials & Tribulations Blog

The commenter has written me a very lovely response to my reply, indicating they will continue to read T&T's coverage and that they think, "... the quality of your trial reporting is equal to that of professional paid reporters." Thank you very much!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 13, Part II

2-10-12 Lazarus, Judge Perry, © Thomas Broersma

Right after I arrived inside Dept 104, all the female press in the front row are wearing something in a shade of pink or rose. Two blouses, one suit and Pat LaLama’s baby pink A-line skirt. We all comment on the coincidence.

After Rubin’s cross and redirect is finished, DDA Nunez presents the next witness. Mark Safarik is the Executive Director of Forensic Behavioral Services, (FBS) since he retired from the FBI in 2007. FBS is a consulting company that helps in the behavior analysis of violent crimes.

The purpose of the company is to help in understanding the behavioral analysis of violent crime, how and why it (a particular incident) happens.

Safarik was an FBI agent for 22 years. He then presents his CV with the FBI. When he first started with the bureau, he was assigned to an Indian Reservation in California for 3.5 years to work violent crimes. From there he transferred to New York City where he worked under cover and also lecturing and teaching at various law enforcement academies.

I note that Lazarus is paying attention to the witness’ testimony.

After that he worked in the National Center of Violent Crime Analysis and interfaced with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Group. He worked on preparing cases that law enforcement asked for their assistance on. He ended up working in the Behavioral Sciences Unit. He entered in early 1995 and remained there for over twelve years. He then retired from that unit.

Safarik is asked what criminal analysis is. Part of it is analyzing crime scenes. It’s the behavioral, evidence review and forensic science of the scene. The analysis tries to determine what happened at the crime scene, how and why did it occur. He has testified in crime scene cases fifteen or sixteen times in the State of California. He has testified in hundreds of criminal trials.

Safarik was asked to make a behavioral assessment of the crime scene, and what that information told him about the scene itself and render an opinion as to whether it was a staged crime scene.

Safarik first reviewed the original investigation reports and everything attended to in the initial crime scene. From this, he will get an understanding of what occurred at the crime scene. He reviewed the new trajectory analysis, the location and photos taken in 2010. He also reviewed subsequent photos of the town home complex and visited the location in 2010.

PN: Why did you go?

MS: Usually, I can just utilize the crime scene photos, but in this case this is an interior location. The crime scene is multi-level and there was a lot of movement in the scene itself. And I wanted to get a full 3-D perspective as to how close all of these rooms are and the dimensions.

One of the 1986 crime scene photos of the living room area is put up on the overhead screen.

PN: Does this appear to be the crime scene photos that occurred in this case?

MS: Yes.

He went into this room. The furniture was different (than it was in 1986).

PN: Did you get an impression from going to the crime scene?

MS: I think that .... (snip) because there was movement, (I wanted to) get a perspective of height and distances of things and where (they were in relation to each other). I wanted to see all that within the scene itself.

Nunez asks if in his analysis did he develop an opinion of this crime and, “Is it consistent or inconsistent with a random burglary and how it went down and number two, how the crime occurred? (snip) Did you develop an opinion regarding that (event)?”

MO: May we approach?

There’s a sidebar.

PN: Did you arrive at an opinion, if the crime scene referenced an appearance .... (of a random burglary or interrupted burglary?)

MS: It was not, in my opinion, that it was not a burglary or an interrupted burglary.

PN: What is it about the location (that factored into that opinion)?

MS: (I) first looked at the location of the apartment unit within the complex itself. It has a much higher risk. (The) driveway is gated and locked. (snip) ...gaining access (would be more difficult?). The first obstacle, that has a level of risk. (snip) Unit #205 is in the center of the complex and center of a group of units. (snip) For a burglary of property, crimes (there is a?) higher risk to get to the center (of a complex) when you got to have to remove objects. (snip) Access getting to the apartment without being seen and getting property out.

Nunez puts up a drawing of the entire complex and it’s obvious that Unit 205 is centrally located in the complex. Burglars would have to pass many apartments to get to and leave the crime scene, verses selecting an outside unit, so it’s risky.

PN: Do most burglaries happen when they expect people not being home?

MS: The goal: get in and take property (so yes, expectation that people are not home?).

PN: Do they generally have an expectation to use the owner’s vehicle to use to leave?

MS: No.

PN: Did the time the crime occurred, the early morning hours factor in (to your conclusion)?

MS: It’s one component. It’s one factor in it. (But) it’s the totality of the scene.

PN: This one piece doesn’t determine by itself but one of the factors (in your conclusion)?

MS: Yes.

PN: The method of entry, that factor in (to your conclusion?)? (snip) So how did the defendant get in?

Safarik goes over the fact that there is no evidence of kicking in or prying of the front door and that the garage door was an automatic door (so they could not have gotten in that way).

Exterior shots of the front door are put up on the overhead screen.

PN: Did you review the testimony of (?) that there was signage (on the front door) that indicates there was an alarm system?

MS: I think that’s a problem. Again, it’s another piece that elevates the risk (to a potential burglar).

PN: Also, no evidence of pry marks or forced entry? (snip) Also, the certain method of departure, did that factor into your opinion?

MS: Yes, it does.

Safarik goes onto explain that burglars would have made provisions to remove the property before they chose a location to break into. Another issue that factored into his opinion, the BMW was removed and driven 2.5 miles. There was no damage to it and the keys were left in the ignition.

MS: Here’s an opportunity to remove property (but no property was removed) except for Sherri’s purse.

Nothing was stripped off, no wheels, (nothing).

MS: Since there was nothing removed (snip) the problem is, no property taken from the residence except the purse.

Nunez asks about the stereo equipment left at the bottom of the steps.

MS: It’s difficult to extract (?) the only property that is moved are two pieces of stereo equipment sitting in the living room (next?) on the entry way floor in front of the stairs. (snip)

PN: (There’s no indication that anything else is searched?)

MS: I don’t (believe? were?) seeing here is exactly that. (snip) There’s no indication that anything else has been searched. No ransacking. A drawer has been pulled out. The bottom drops out and the drawer leans up against the coffee table. Theres a small box of straight pins (in the drawer) that dislodges. The pins are all together so there’s no movement; no searching of it (the drawer). (Besides) that’s not a place (the side stand) you would expect valuables to be taken.

Nunez puts up a photo of the drawer and you can see how the box of straight pins is on top of items in the drawer. Then a close up of the pins and thread.

PN: If someone (was) looking for property, valuable property, they would also look through the contents (of the drawer)?

MS: It’s not an area one would usually expect valuables to be (found?) searched. (snip) (One) could pull out that drawer and search without pulling it out all the way. (I) don’t see actual searching here.

Another question.

MS: I think if you’re talking about a burglary, one woud search locations where one would expect to steal (valuables; the bedroom, a jewelry box, etc.). There’s no evidence that anyone went through the house. (snip)

(They?) had an opportunity to take things from the house. (The scene?) also indicates that there are (still valuable?) property (at the scene) but you would expect an individual to search for things.

MS: A burglary is a search for property you can steal. Property has value. If there’s nothing that’s been searched... (?) (snip) I would expect areas would have items of financial value to be searched.

PN: Any other factors that rendered into your opinion? (snip) Did you take all these factors into your opinion?

MS: Yes. (snip) You have to look at how things happen on a time sequence and temporal sequence. (Because? Becomes?) when did that happen at that location (snip) and why is that there and when did it get there.

PN: What is staging?

MO: Objection!

JP: Over ruled!

MS: Staging is the attempt by the offender to change or putting in false evidence at the crime scene to create a new motive (snip) to redirect law enforcement to investigate the crime scene.

Nunez again goes over each point. The left behind stacked stereo equipment, the car, the keys in the ignition, the location of the unit in the complex, the lack of evidence that other areas of the apartment are searched.

MS: I didn’t see anything that reflected a burglary or an interrupted burglary.

Now Nunez moves onto the crime of Rasmussen’s murder. Nunez also asks Safarik if he reviewed documents on how Ms. Rasmussen was killed and if he has an opinion as to how certain things occurred.

Safarik has a three dimensional video program, that can be manipulated to show different areas of the apartment from different views. Detective Stearns is at the controls to move us through the apartment while Safarik describes what he believes happened in the attack.

There were two shots fired through the kitchen patio sliding glass doors. The victim was killed in the living room.

PN: (Did the) shots (in the kitchen) come before or after the victim was killed?

MS: (The) one low and one high in the window are the first (shots fired) in the series. (snip) There is an attack in this area (pointing to the kitchen). There is a struggle for the gun. (snip) On the small right finger (victim) there is a soot deposit. That indicates to me her hand is very close to the weapon.

So the first occurrence is in the breakfast nook area and shots (were fired?) very close to the window.

PN: Where the chair (at the dining table) was pulled out and (red? reading? mat? material?) could be where the attack first happened.

MS: Yes. (snip)

No blood was found in the upper level areas and no disturbance of items in that area. The ironing board was not disturbed. Ironing boards are not very stable, yet it's standing. Even though the attack started up there, Safarik thinks they were standing. There’s no blood up there (kitchen, dining room = the upper level). There’s blood found in the entry way.

PN: Do you believe the next attack occurred in the entry way?

MS: I think that Sherri is running for the stairs and (hoping?) to get out and then the next attack is by that gray wall.

(The gray wall in the program is along the tiled entry way where the stairs to the upper levels begin and there’s the door to the garage.)

PN: You know there was a bite on Ms. Rasmussen’s left arm and injuries. Are you able to figure out blow by blow how this crime occurred?

MS: No. And I think all of us would agree, the possibilities are endless. That doesn’t really matter. But what we can construct overall .... (snip) (is a general sequence of events).

PN: Is the bite mark consistent with the victim trying to keep the weapon away from her?

MS: Sure. (snip) To sustain a bite mark, it indicates someone is in close physical contact.

Safarik indicates on the overhead screen where he thinks the defendant recaptured her.

PN: Do you believe the victim died in the entry way?

MS: Oh no. She was killed in the living room.

PN: Did you review that there was blood in the entry way?

MS: (It’s) consistent with injuries occurring in that entry way. (snip) It’s not blood drops. It’s smears. (snip) She’s got blood on her head and she touches her head. She’s injured in the entry way and bleeding here.

However, in the living room she ... (snip) there is a vase and that vase is shattered in the living room.

Judge Perry indicates to Nunez to wrap it up.

Nunez states he has about ten to fifteen more questions.

PN: Is it your opinion that the attack with the vase was before she was shot and killed?

MS: Yes.

Safarik talks about the three bullet wounds being in a small, anatomical area on the body, indicating to him that Rasmussen is not moving when she receives those. Safarik also goes into a description of one wound being a “shored” wound that coroner Dr. Selser talked about. That’s when a bullet hits something hard (the cement floor under the carpeting) and slightly rebounds. That bullet was found just under the surface of the skin. She’s on the floor, on her back and the bullet doesn’t exit. And, we have stippling, meaning the barrel of the weapon was from zero to twenty four inches from the victim. There’s unburnt gunpowder on the red robe.

MS: One (bullet wound) is shored, one is a contact wound. But Sherri never moves. (snip) She had to have been hit first (with the vase) before she was shot. (snip) One of the wounds to her face appears to be from the front, the gun sight, possibly hit in the face with the weapon.

Then, there’s two items, what we call cord. In a burglary, what’s the point of bringing cord? It’s found in the entryway and has blood on it.

There are blood smears on the right hand. The smears may or may not be consistent in size with the white cord. Smearing on the hands is consistent with fighting.

PN: There appears to be barrel cylinder gap (gunshot residue) on the blanket. How did that fit into the sequence of events?

MS: (The) initial attack is in the kitchen and the attack re-engages in the (entry way) evidenced by the broken fingernails and blood. (snip) It then moves into the living room and the broken vase and the blood. (snip) Rasmussen even has a blood stain on her heel, so she’s up and has her foot in a blood stain. (snip) And the entire time the offender is engaged in an attack on Sherri. (snip) And then at some time, the offender decides to use a handgun.

MS: Now the offender decides, I’m going to shoot Sherri. The offender breaks contact.

JP: The use of the robe... (snip) Don’t tell us what the offender is thinking about. Just tell what occurred.

MS: The offender grabs the quilt nearby and wraps the gun and fires three shots.

Now Nunez asks about the stacked stereo equipment at the bottom of the stairs.

MS: The only thing that makes sense is they were placed there after. (snip) If those were there before (the attack) they are undisturbed. (snip) No one is stepping on (them). No one’s disturbing them. (How did they both get down the stairs and over them without disturbing them?)

Additionally, if trying to decide when placed there either before the attack or after, (?) and have to decide what’s more consistent.

A final photograph is put up on the overhead. I’ve not seen this one before. It’s a close up of the bottom of Rasmussen’s right heel and you can see a red stain on her heel.

There was also a large blood stain underneath her.

MO: Objection!

JP: Over ruled. There’s testimony from the coroner.

There are a few more questions and then Safarik is finished with direct.

We take the morning break at 10:55 AM. Detectives and the prosecutors come to the aid of emotionally wrought John Rutten, Nels and Loretta Rasmussen.

Writer Matthew McGough points out to me that in the computer program that had a three dimensional representation of the town home, there was a vase on the dining room table with three roses in it, just like we saw in the evidence photos.

After the break, Overland begins his cross.

Safarik’s company is a for profit company and he charges $350.00 an hour. For his testing and preparation he has charged $9,000.00 so far. He is billing the DA’s office. He first became involved in this case on June 1st, 2010. He received a call from DDA Nunez.

MO: The first thing he asked was whether you could provide assistance (miss the rest of the question).

MS: I don’t recall the first thing.

MO: You knew from the beginning, that was one of the first things.....

MS: I told them I’d need to look at case files.

MO: You told them you needed to visit the crime scene?

MS: Yes.

MO: You knew the crime occurred 24 years prior?

MS: Yes.

Overland asks if he knew there were changes to the scene.

MS: I certainly expected there would be in the crime scene.

MO: Did you determine if there were changes?

MS: What kind of changes?

MO: Well, any changes.

MS: I’m sure there were some changes.

Safarik was interested in how things were, if there were (miss the rest).

MO: So you gave us your version, or your opinion of what happened?

MS: Yes.

MO: And your interpretation, is your, that’s your opinion? (snip) And your interpretation is we’re dealing with smart burglars?

MS: What do you mean? (snip) I don’t know if they would be smart or not. I’m just stating risk.

MO: So a normal burglar would not assume the risk?

MS: That’s not what I’m saying. (snip) I’m not going to extract.....

Overland now asks him about individual aspects of the crime scene and if that was or wasn’t what decided his opinion.

MO: That’s a piece, that you decided, that this (was a staged crime scene?)?

MS: If you’ve got a dumb burglar, he may not know it.

Overland asks another question about burglars and decision making and what the normal burglar may do.

MS: He could have a high level of impulsivity.

Overland now switches to asking questions about his service in the FBI and that he only investigated “federal” crimes.

MS: There are federal crimes. I’m (also?) tasked with helping state crimes.

MO: How many burglaries have you investigated?

MS: Hundreds.

Safarik, in response to the questions about burglaries informs Overland that he started in state level law enforcement before he entered the FBI.

MO: Who did you work for?

MS: Davis City Police.

MO: Did you ever arrest burglars when you were a police officer in Davis?

I believe he answers something to the effect of, ‘I’m sure I did.’

MO: Were you ever aware of a burglar being caught inside a house?

MS: It’s not (uncommon?). (snip) I would say the number is a much smaller number. (snip) It’s very difficult to generalize about what a burglar does. (snip) What I’m doing in this case is specific (to this case).

MO: Another thing you thought (was specific) was the condo had sticker, had an alarm sticker (on the front door).

MS: It’s a piece of evidence.

MO: So you’re saying a burglar wouldn’t go in?

MS: I think that mischaracterizes my testimony. (snip) He would be evaluating his risk by choosing (that apartment).

MO: You’re making an assumption that he saw the sticker, an assumption a burglar is less likely to (?)?

(I'm amazed Overland asked this question. You can see the huge sign in the glass of the front door even in the photo.)

MS: That would be getting into the mind or a burglar. I'm just saying, that elevates the risk.

MO: In your experience, do burglaries happen in homes that have stickers with alarms?

MS: Sure.

Now there is a question about the lack of tool marks on the door. Safark looked at the door and door frame (in the photos) and no evidence of forced entry.

MO: So your concluded that Ms. Rasmussen opened the door for her attacker?

MS: I don’t believe I said that.

MO: You prepared a report?

MS: Yes I did.

MO: Do you have that report with you?

MS: I do not.

A copy of the report is found for the witness to review.

MO: Page 20 of your report. (Please read that to yourself.)

MS: I said if Ms. Rasmussen....

MO: Did determine, based on your review it would have been consistent for the front door had (it) been locked?

I believe the witness goes onto explain that the (entire? scene?) is more consistent if the door was locked verses unlocked.

MO: You concluded that on February 24th, 1986, the front door was locked (snip) (and she was attacked?) in the early morning hours?

MS: I think that’s most consistent, yes.

MO: Did you ever call the coroner?

MS: No.

MO: Had you attended any part of the trial to look at witesses?

MS: No.

MO: Did you review as part of your analysis, a report by them, a progress report and fact sheet by Hooks and Mayer?

MS: If it’s listed on my report, I did.

Overland shows him a copy.

MS: I don’t find it specifically, but in part II of the LAPD murder book.... (but I don’t recall reviewing that...).

MO: Do you remember reading an analysis by Hooks and Mayer where they analyzed (the scene) as a burglary gone awry?

MS: I don’t recall. I may have done so.

MO: Did you interview the original detectives?

MS: I typically do not interview detectives 24 years later as to what they remember. (I) generally review reports at the time they are most accurate.

MO: You knew these were detectives who did a follow up investigation?

MS: I read their follow up investigation.

MO: Was part of your analysis that you based your (invest?) that Ms. Rasmussen responded to (the) front door and Ms. Rasmussen responded to that location (door?)? (snip) Did your report include looking at the DNA analysis of fingernails (at the door)?

Nunez asks if they can approach.

(Off the top of my head, I’m thinking I have a memory that this extra DNA Analysis at the independent SERI was done later than this witness’ analysis.)

Overland now asks him about specific aspects of the crime scene and if he remembers where fingerprints were located. I’m remembering Overland trying to ask the question several ways when Judge Perry interjects with his own question.

MS: I don’t recall if there’s anything significant about it. (finger prints)

MO: One of the things you felt was an important part was the cordage?

MS: Yes.

MO: You said, why bring rope to the location?

(In the context of a burglary.)

MO: How do you know it was brought?

MS: (John Ruetten’s statements in the murder book.)

MO: So you’re basing that on what John Ruetten told you? (snip) So the basis of the rope is what John Ruetten told you or investigators?

MS: Yes.

MO: So you’re assuming John Ruetten is telling you the truth when he said that?

MS: Yes.

Overland puts up defense exhibit triple K (KKK) showing the dry cleaning laid over the back of the love seat.

Looking over at the defense table, it appears to me Lazarus is more engaged with the testimony.

MO: See any rope near or attached to that cleaning? (snip) Can you see that there?

MS: I don’t know what that is.

MO: There is some type of cord holding the dry cleaning together.

MS: I’ve seen this photo. I don’t know what that is.

MO: Have you ever investigated a burglary where they didn’t take anything?

MS: I probably have, but there would be (other? factors?).

MO: (How about) surprised in the middle of burglary?

MS: Sure. (snip) Again, you’re giving me generalized info. I’m giving you a specific case. (snip) The crime would make sense if it would all (be) explained.

MO: When you’re saying ‘make sense’ you’re saying make sense to you.

MS: Make sense to me.

MO: You can’t say what happened because of too many variables?

MS: No, I can look at blood stains, the vase, the bullet wound and see the sequence of events.

Judge Perry interjects (I believe) after other questions.

JP: But that’s just an opinion your offering?

MS: Certainly.

MO: Do you believe that the sequencing of events is impossible?

MS: Right. I didn’t do that. You can do the important aspects. (snip) What you can do is sequence the overall aspects of the case.

Overland asks the witness if the burglars took a considerable amount of time to unhook the stereo equipment and stack it.

MS: I don’t think there was ever an intention to take the equipment. (snip) I don’t think I even addressed the considerable amount of time.

MO: Do you think it took some time?

MS: Yes.

MO: How much time.

MS: Not very long.

MO: Isn’t it just as likely that unplugging and stacking took place (whomever?) was at home surprised the intruder in the (house?)?

MS: No.

MO: Why?

MS: Do you want me to explain it? (snip) The equipment was either stacked before or after.

Overland is trying to ask very specific questions and each time the witness tries to answer with more than a single word answer. And then Judge Perry interjects and tells Overland, “We’re talking about hypotheticals here. I’m troubled by how you’re asking the question.”

Judge Perry takes over and asks a long hypothetical question that I don’t even attempt to get it all. Its based on Overland’s question of a burglar (that) went upstairs (?) after stacking equipment, and is it consistent with (?blood stains?) over (the) stairwell? I miss writing down the answer.

Overland asks another question and Judge Perry responds, “I’m going to sustain my own objection to asked and answered. This is taking a long time.”

Now there are questions about stains retrieved from the wall of the garage.

MO: Did that affect your opinion?

MS: If I did review that it would be part of my analysis.

MO: As you sit here today you don’t know if it affected your opinion?

MS: I’m sure I would have considered it.

Overland asks the question again and Judge Perry says, “Asked and answered!”

It’s noon, and Judge Perry has not called the lunch hour. I want lunch but Overland keeps going. Then Judge Perry interjects about another question that the witness is unable to give a simple “yes” answer to. “I’m not going to allow it to be asked that way. The thing on that particular point, it would be consistent and that’s the answer.”

JP: At a typical case, a donut shop lets say, being broken into (and the burglar is surprised)... (would that be consistent?)?

MS: If that’s the only thing considered, that would be consistent.

There might have been one more question and then cross is finished.

Judge Perry looks at Nunez and asks, “Is that it?” Nunez raises both his hands and we finally go to lunch.

1:30 PM, back inside the courtroom I see the prosecution’s last witness for the first time and I smile. It’s criminalist Steven Dowell, who I first saw testify in the Robert Blake case back in 2005. It’s from Dowell I first learned all there was to know about the unique combination of barium, antimony and lead, more commonly known as GSR and the scanning electron microscope (SEM) that’s used to find it.

The reporter sitting to my left, Jim, from local Fox News has drawn what looks like a pretty accurate floor plan of the town home. Looking over his shoulder, Nels Rasmussen points out corrections to the drawing.

It’s taking some time for court to start and those of us in the front row start to wonder what’s going on. Lazarus was taken back into the jail area and counsel went into Judge Perry’s chambers. Not a single one of us was paying attention as to “who” called the in-chamber meeting. We’re all asking each other, “Did you see?”

Nunez is the first out of Judge Perry’s chamber. He’s smiling and I’m wondering what that’s all about. It appears we are picking another juror! We are now seating another juror in seat number four. We go on the record and the bailiff will make a random draw. Alternate #1, a man is selected by the random draw. Judge Perry addresses the room.

JP: Juror #4 is excused for legal reasons. You are not to speculate. Alternate #1, you are now juror #4.

The panel is now back to eight women and four men.

JP: I’m going to make a few comments before we resume. In this country, trials are public events. (snip) But I want to emphasize once again, (you are to make your decision?) based on the evidence introduced before trial and not a reaction from someone based in the audience. When jurors speculate from things outside (testimony? witness stand?) (snip) they’re probably wrong. What goes on beyond the bar should not impact your decision in any way. We need a decision based only on the evidence.

And with that, Steven Dowell takes the stand.

As Dowell passes, Nunez hands him a bottle of water and tells Judge Perry, “Don’t get alarmed judge, I’m just being polite.”

The room breaks into laughter.

We learn that Dowell recently retired last year. (That made me sad to hear this. I saw him testify in the first Spector trial and I think the second.) He was employed by the LA County Coroner’s office for approximately 36 years, the last 31 as a criminalist. Dowell gives his CV. He joined the coroner’s office in 1975. He became a criminalist after a few years as a histology technician. He became a research criminalist in 1981, which is a supervisory position.

Dowell went to the field, and did examinations in the field and collected evidence. He also did tool mark evaluations in the coroner’s office. This is an exam of a part (of a?) tool that could have been applied to the body and what could have produced that trauma. (tool marks are) It’s the application of the tool to a non moving body.

Nunez asks some supposition questions. Suppose a mark is made on the body and the coroner’s office is able to evaluate it quickly. There is a better chance to compare it to a tool. Then, suppose a mark is placed on the body and the body decomposes, the mark has the possibility to change.

Dowell worked on the case.

PN: Is this one of the photographs you reviewed in this work?

A photograph, of Rasmussen’s face is put up, a close up of her face.

Dowell goes over marks on the face and explains which ones are good for comparison to tools and which ones are not. Dowell points out a mark on the outside edge of Rasmussen’s right eye and identifies it. “This is a pattern mark,” he states.

The next photo is the left side of Rasmussen’s head and the markings above the ear. Dowell doesn’t see any patterns that he could possibly tie to anything.

PN: In your opinion, there are many different tools that could make those marks above the left ear?

SD: Correct.

What Dowell thought he saw in the injury over the right eye was the muzzle end of a weapon. He was asked to compare that mark to a Smith & Wesson Model 49 firearm.

PN: Was that the only firearm you were asked to compare to (the injury)?

SD: Yes.

PN: Did the defense ask for you to compare the marks on the left side of her face to any other type of firearm?

SD: Not to me, no.

He compared the injuries on the site of the face to the grip of the S&W Model 49. There wasn’t anything that he could make a definitive comparison.

Nunez enters fourteen photos into evidence, People’s #331 through #344. There is significant testimony that relies on these photographs.

The photos that Dowell prepared explain what he did. His review took place in 2010 and he also looked at the vase in the last few months. The autopsy photos were used in comparison. He obtained a firearm from the LA County Sheriff’s Firearm’s group.

He examined the firearm, and made a silicone impression of the tip end of the barrel. From the silicone mold, he made a positive model using dental stone.

Dowell now explains that he has an example of the tip of the weapon. The next photo is looking down the barrel of the muzzle of the gun. The following photo is the dental stone case he made from the silicone impression. Now he shows what it looks like on it’s side.

PN: It’s a replica of the very tip or end of the firearm?

SD: That’s correct.

Then another photo, with all three images together. The next set of photographs are now comparing the dental stone cast to the features over the right eye.

Dowell describes what we’re seeing.

SD: These images are brought one to one.

(Meaning, they are brought to the correct scale.)

Dowell points out the semi-circle lines over and on the edge of the right eye and the skin in the center, almost round that’s not involved, not damaged. He places the photo image of the dental stone mold over the photo of Rasmussen’s eye.

SD: This photo is a two dimensional representation to a three dimensional component. (snip) This semi-circular area, could have been produced (by the muzzle of the Model 49).

SD: I think this tool is capable of producing this mark in the right of the eye.

PN: The only thing that holds you back (from making a firm connection) is the curvature of the body?

SD: Right.

Also, the dynamic movement of both items possibly moving. The curvature appears to be repeated on the lower curve.

SD: You also have to remember there’s a bony structure under this part of the eye, and the bony area above that can support... (snip)

(PN?) It (the Model 49 muzzle) could have produced this mark?

SD: I can’t exclude it.

PN: You cannot make a determination as to how much force was used?

SD: I cannot.

It was interesting to see the mold place over the injury to Rasmussen’s eye. The mold appeared to match the injury.

Now Nunez moves onto a clay vase. Dowell examined a vase to see if there was anything in the vase that could make that mark.

SD: It’s a very complex shaped object.

It’s impossible to describe. There are all these, long slender, curving shapes coming out of the sides of the vase in all different directions. Tons of curves and points. It’s a complex of features.

SD: But whether or not this vase produced any marks on the face I can’t say.

The vase is six inches tall and six inches wide.

PN: There were some defects exhibited in this vase?

SD: That’s correct.

Then a photo of a box full of broken shards that Dowell states he reviewed a month or so ago. Apparently, the broken vase was the same size as the image of the intact vase, but not exactly like it.

The intact vase was to show that it has many contours to produce the trauma to the right eye.

PN: What is your opinion based on the review of the photos and vase?

SD: I can’t exclude either of those vases producing these wounds. (snip) I think it’s less likely to this (pointing to the right eye region). However, the vase is so complex, that it could be.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see that John Ruetten is totally leaning forward, not looking at the screen or paying attention to testimony.

PN: How many blows (would it take to create those injuries)?

SD: Maybe as many as four blows, or one blow, if you have the right kind of tool.

Up on the overhead screen is a photo of Sherri on the floor with the broken vase around her. Ruetten still doesn’t look up.

PN: Did you examine any other parts of the gun or butt of the gun (that could?) produce any of the injuries on the decedent?

SD: I did examine the firearm. It does have some sharp edges. (snip) The linear lines, there are some areas that could produce (the injuries on the face) but nothing definitive.

PN: Did you work with Lloyd Mahaney, back in 1986 as part of (your? criminalist? coroner’s?) function?
SD: Yes.

Nunez asks how was it done in 1986 to take fingernail scrapings and clippings.

SD: (The nails were) simply scraped. (snip) Nothing was done to separate one from the other.

All the left hand nails were put together and the right hand nails were put together.

SD: There was a wood stick, we’d scrape the fingernails and a pair of scissors were used to cut the fingernails.

PN: Do you recall if any procedures done to use the scissors?

SD: There was a protocol to clean scissors with an alcohol wipe.

In 1986, scissors were used in procedures to collect nail clippings. As techniques evolved and DNA became in use, collection and protocols changed. As DNA became usable in (DNA testing and forensic science). Later, much more attention was paid to collection coverage.

Dowell is asked about the coroner’s collection tubes. They were single use test tubes in the field.

Direct is finished and cross begins.

MO: You said you knew Lloyd Mahaney. Did you ever go to a scene with him? (snip) Did you observe him collect evidence at the coroner’s office?

SD: I very well may have.

MO: Do you know what type of procedures he used to collect evidence? (snip) So you don’t know how he separated nail evidence?

SD: No, I don’t.

Cross ends and there’s no redirect.

Judge Perry tells the jury, “We’re going to send you home. I’m going to talk to counsel about scheduling. We’ll see you back at 9:00 AM on Monday. I still can’t tell you when the case will go to the jury, but we’re getting closer. See you at what time?”

Jury: Nine!

Judge Perry asks counsel, “We’re all done here?”

DDA Presby asks Judge Perry, “....the issue of scope of cross and what the court will allow.... questions based on not subject to the facts of the case. (snip) His opinion of witness, as to (character?).”

JP: I think that’s going to be a difficult thing for the people to do.

Nunez tells the court they will be working with counsel to work out stipulations with counsel and tell the jury Monday morning that the people rest.

JP: I’ll be available until 4.

And that’s how the day ended.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 13


Being dropped off at the Universal City Station, I just miss catching a train by about 10 seconds. I open up my laptop and decide to write while I wait. Like I mentioned yesterday, the prosecution hopes to rest their case today. They have two witness left to call after firearms expert Daniel Rubin.

It was yesterday or the day before that the woman sitting at the detectives table right behind the prosecution, (I think she is a DDA.) was wearing a striking hot pink, form fitting jacket with a bit of flair on the wrist and over the hips. It was paired with an A-line black skirt. There were big black decorative buttons down the front of the jacket. It was a sharp outfit.

I have to admit I am missing writing about the attire that people wear to court like I observed in the two Spector trials. I think it was Wednesday that I was admiring the sky blue tie that DDA Nunez was wearing. It had a bit of a shimmer to the fabric. When I was squinting to try to see it better, DDA Nunez asked if I was frowning or staring at him. I confessed that I was admiring his tie. Writer Matthew McGough thought that the witness on the stand at the time, has the exact same color tie and jokingly accused DDA Nunez and the witness of matching their wardrobe, but I could tell that the witness had on a tie with a different hue and weave. DDA Presby often wears a two-toned striped tie. I’ve not seen anyone wear ties that compare to DDA Alan Jackson’s collection. I’m betting his wife helped pick those out.

When blood bank expert Dr. Connie Westhoff testified, she reminded me a bit of Diane Ogden, a 1101b witness in the Spector trial, but with more subdued, hair and makeup. She had on a pearl necklace paired with a form fitting black suit. The long cuffs of her pink blouse were folded back over the jacket sleeve creating a very polished, professional look.

Up on the 9th floor at 8:20 AM. Scott Young is sitting on the bench across from me.

8:30 AM DDA Nunez is speaking to the family in the hallway. John Ruetten is with them.

10:40 AM
Crime scene analyst Mark Safarik testified about the specific circumstances of the crime scene that lead him to believe that this was a staged scene and not a burglary or interrupted burglary. He descried in detail how he believes that Rasmussen was initially confronted in the kitchen area where the first shots were fired. Rasmussen then got away from her attacker but was recaptured and assaulted in the entry way area. The final assault occurred in the living room where she was struck with the vase and shot three times. While the witness testified, Loretta Rasmussen and John Ruetten silently sobbed behind me.

12:07 PM
If it hasn't dawned on everyone yet, today is the 26th anniversary of Sherri Rae Rasmussen's murder.

1:05 PM
A little information on what happened this morning before testimony started. Male Juror #4 called in sick to Judge Perry's clerk Melody. Judge Perry tells the court that Juror #4 stated he has been feeling ill and believes he has an ear infection. Judge Perry plans to excuse him. He will seat an alternate. Judge Perry asks the parties if they have any preference, otherwise, he will appoint Alternate #1, a male. DDA Presby has no preference; that's fine with him. There is a conference at the defense table. Overland asks that there be a random draw from the alternates so that is how the single female alternate, Alternate #6 is now moved into Juror seat #4. Judge Perry tells the jury, "That's why we have alternates." The jury is now made up of nine women and three men. DDA Nunez, outside the presence of the jury, asked Judge Perry that the juror be instructed that he's still under admonition. Judge Perry indicated that through the clerk, he told the juror he is still under the admonition (not to talk about the case until it reaches a verdict or is over).

In Overland's cross of firearms expert Rubin, he went over every gun listed in his report that came back from a search of a database, (revolvers with the specific lands and groves and right twist) that could have possibly fired the bullets recovered by the coroner, 42A and 42B. It was a long list. In redirect, DDA Presby brought out the fact that not all of these weapons had a two-inch barrel. The list of weapons that had a two-inch barrel was noticeably smaller.

In Nunez' direct examination of crime scene analyst Safarik, we learned that he worked for the FBI for 22 years and retired in 2007. The last twelve of those were in the elite Behavioral Sciences Unit. He is executive director of Forensic Behavioral Services, a consulting company that helps in behavioral analysis of violent crimes.

5:18 PM
I'll be working into the night to bring you as much detailed coverage as I can of today's testimony. Monday morning at 9:00 AM, the prosecution will rest their case and enter into various stipulations with the defense. After that, the defense will present their case. We lost another juror in the afternoon session and I will tell you what happened in my next update. And no, I do not know how long the defense case will take or if there will be a rebuttal case.

The Jeremy Staat Foundation's Wall-to-Wall Cross Country Bicycle Ride

Wesley and Jeremy yesterday ... road warriors!

Hello T & T friends!
I’d like to share with you what I am up to through May. I’m traveling across the United States with a pair of Iraq war veterans, Jeremy Staat and Wesley Barrientos. They are bicycling across the country to bring awareness to issues our veterans are facing in this country—the United States falls very short in assisting our veterans in assimilating back to “the real world” and is woefully inadequate as far as giving timely medical care.

We left Bakersfield on Sunday, February 19 and will arrive at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on May 28.

This is a photo I took yesterday along State Route 247 from Barstow to Twentynine Palms. On the left is Wesley—a double amputee who lost his legs in an IED explosion, and he's riding a hand-cranked bike. The fellow standing is Jeremy Staat—and if that name is familiar to you, Jeremy is a graduate of ASU, where he was a star player alongside his dear friend Pat Tillman. Jeremy did play in the NFL for several teams, and at the end of his playing career, enlisted into the Marines.

If you are on Facebook, please “like” our pages, Wall to Wall Cross Country Bicycle Ride, The Jeremy Staat Foundation, and Life Over Legs. I’ll be posting updates on my own blog, Scared Moderate Female (yes, I’m semi-politically motivated, too), and I’m working on creating a Photobucket page of our adventures. I do update the Facebook pages first—I'm two days behind posting on my blog! Priorities are very much in order.