Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 10

Lazarus, Judge Perry, Shannon Presby 2-12-12. © Thomas Broersma.

We are on the morning break.

This morning the jury was shown the rest of the interview video of Lazarus. Detective Jaramillo was questioned on cross as to why they came up with a story to get Lazarus in the jail interview room. Judge Perry sustained objections to many of these questions.

The next witness was an LAPD officer, Brian McCartin who went through LAPD accademy training with Lazarus. Part of their training involved "combat wrestling" and "gun retention drills" which involves trying to take a weapon away from one's opponent.

McCartin described Lazarus' abilities in combat wrestling as, "She was the strongest, most aggressive, most persistent woman in all the class." McCartin testified that he trained with all the women in the class. Over the years he saw her on the job and still considers her a friend.

On cross examination, Overland asked him if in those training, wrestling sessions if she ever bit him. He replied, "No."

The current witness on the stand is Thomas Fedor, a DNA analyst from an independent lab known as SERI, that does contracted work for the LAPD, the LA Co, Sheriffs, and other law enforcement agencies.

I almost forgot! As I exited the courtroom, I see John Ruetten clearing security on the 9th floor. I don't know why he has come back to the trial.

11:59 AM
The SERI DNA analyst is still on the stand under cross examination. Overland is challenging the minor profile results he found in the bite mark swab. He also asked questions about the integrity of packaging in shipping and receiving samples from the LAPD and whether or not inadequate packaging could invalidate results, or the results could have no value.

John Ruetten was sitting in the gallery directly behind me.

2:37 PM
Gail Ruetten, John Ruetten's older sister is in the gallery. The SERI DNA analyst is still on the stand under cross. Overland is questioning him about DNA he tested that came from swabbings of fingernail scrapings or cuttings from Sherri Rasmusen. Many of these nails had incomplete profiles and/or profiles from one or more individuals that could not be identified. Only one fingernail so far that this witness tested that had a partial profile that could have come from Stephanie Lazarus. The chance that this DNA came from some other random individual was one in 26,000.

As far as future witnesses in the prosecution's case-in-chief, I'm sure there is more DNA analysis to come that will be challenged by the defense. I expect we will still hear from the prosecution's crime scene analyst as well as a firearms expert that will testify about the gunshot residue on the blanket that indicated the muzzle length of the weapon was two inches.

10:00 PM
I could almost see the tension building in DDA Nunez’s back as he sat waiting for Overland to finish cross so he could get up and redirect his witness, SERI Analyst Thomas Fedor.

Overland was asking question after question about single DNA locations in many different samples and how those specific spots showed no indication of that DNA coming from his client, Lazarus.

It wasn’t until 3:35 PM that Nunez finally was able to ask questions about the DNA in it’s totality.

PN: Defense exhibit UUU, this chart is for the bite mark? (snip) Does that have all the loci on it?

(The exhibit is for “MiniFiler” a test that specifically targets 9 loci spots.)

TF: It has nine of fifteen.

PN: (When you do a comparison) are you looking at each individual (locus) by itself, or (?)?

TF: No. It must be drawn from (the profile as a whole).

PN: Is it intellectually consistent in your field...

MO: Objection! Argumentative!

JP: Sustained!

PN: Is it consistent in your field to take a high peak and a low peak and say (that they belong together?)?

TF: I would not normally attempt to frame that type of conclusion.

Judge Perry interrupts Nunez’s redirect and asks his own question. When he did that it looked to me like DDA Nunez was frustrated, (pacing in the well a bit) that Judge Perry had taken over questioning of his witness.

JP: What significance is (there) to relative (peak) height?

TF: It does indicate who the particular contributor might be.

High peaks come together. Low peaks come together. Nunez puts up the DNA profile of the bite mark swab were there is a mixture of two sources of DNA. He points the witness to one locus, identified as TPOX. At that locus there is definitely a mixture of DNA.

The totality of the results tells us there is one major contributor. The minor contributor is consistent with the profile taken from skin. The witness states that if the only potential source of DNA is from skin, he would expect the DNA to be very low. Of the bite mark swab DNA profile, the defendant was the major contributor.

PN: Given the strength of the (peak heights) of the profile, it is consistent (with the defendant)?

TF: Yes.

Nothing in that minor profile is foreign to Sherri Rasmussen’s DNA. John Ruetten’s DNA was excluded from being a contributor to the DNA sample.

Nunez clears up the fact that the population controls that Fedor based his chance random probabilities (the chance percentages) on, for various samples on statistical populations, are recognized by other scientists and used by some other laboratories. (In other words, the basis of these calculations is accepted in the scientific community.)

(Then Nunez moved onto the the two torn fingernails that were found at the crime scene, collected by LAPD criminalists and stored in LAPD custody.)

Judge Perry interrupts Nunez’s redirect again to state, “The (reports, Electrophermographs) are clear, there are drop offs from both tests.”

”(Drop offs, are when the analysis detects some DNA, but it’s not as high of a signal detected to meet the minimum parameters, so the information “drops off.)

Fedor states that from one fingernail, there is DNA that is consistent with Stephanie Lazarus’ profile. “One in 26,000 (random) women would qualify as Ms. Lazarus does to the mixture,” Fedor adds.

In SERI’s item #13 (the second torn fingernail) Fedor states that Sherri Rasmussen and Stephanie Lazarus could each be a contributor. One in 9,000 (random) women would qualify asas Ms. Lazarus does in this mixture. Ms. Rasmussen, one in one hundred.

Nunez moves onto redirecting testimony on the blanket, but we are getting close to 4:00 PM and Judge Perry shuts down questioning telling Nunez he will have to bring his witness back tomorrow.


Utah Chris said...

So.... Sherri Rasmussen not only was fighting for her life... the implication is she was fighting against the considerable abilities of Lazarus demonstrated during her Academy training.

Also, the implication of John Ruetten in the gallery is he won't be testifying again for the prosecution or defense? The defense must have decided they wanted him off the stand and not hurting their case anymore?

I suppose these is more rhetorical questions that got me thinking out loud.

Anonymous said...

"She was the strongest, most aggressive, most persistent woman in all the class."

I bet she was.

Anonymous said...

hope she fries!

VM said...

How is she holding up? I suppose hearing about ones self must be troubling... and knowing that everyone who is in the court room is listening about your dirty little secret..

Anonymous said...

Dear Sprocket,
Thanks so much for the work you find time to do on this case! This is a fascinating trial and you are putting us right smack there with you. I am one of many who are very grateful.

My question is - do you think we are likely to hear why and how Ms. Lazarus was originally "cleared" of involvement? Is the prosecution likely to ask the original detectives about this or is it something more likely to be covered by the defense?

Wise latina

donna said...

Strong. Aggressive. Persistent. That's what it took, I guess. Scary and horribly sad to think what the victim went through.

Anonymous said...

All I can think of... is the long long wait for this trial Sherri's parents have endured and how angry I am that this murderer went on with HER life without a care....hiding her dirty little secret from the world.....BUT..she will be punished for the rest of her life and through eternity.
She had 25 years of freedom. Hopefully the jury will pronounce her GUILTY!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for giving your sense of what may come next in the trial. If you have any clue each day about what is scheduled for the next day (e.g. interrogation video, continuation of a witness on the stand, beginning of defense witnesses, closing arguments, etc.), it would great if you could include that at the end of each day's blog for those of us able to attend some of the trial days. Thanks!

Susan said...

In these cold cases, I think a lot of people are sad/mad because the defendant "got away" with it for so long.

I have a different perspective. I think for SL and others like her, this long-in-coming justice will be much more difficult & painful.

When this crime occurred over 25 years ago, SL had little to lose. Now, she has much more at stake: a husband, a small child, a comfortable retirement, and loyal friends who have known & loved her for decades.

Should she be found guilty, I guarantee you the "price" she pays today will be much higher than in the years after the crime occurred, regardless of the number of years she is sentenced to.

If she is found guilty, I hope the Rasmussens will find some solace in the fact that SL's years of freedom have made today's punishment more severe, painful, and difficult than it would have been.

The previous comment regarding her being "ugly", well that was a pretty ugly & crass (and unnecessary) comment.

Shannon said...

I think the comments are very rough. I believe the DNA science has her nailed. If the jury is sophisticated enough to understand it, she will be convicted.

None of this will bring Sherri Rasmussen back. I can only imagine her family's pain. I imagine too how her husband unknowingly brought pure evil into her life. The fact that he had sexual relations with her post-murder is unbearable. I mean, you really could never take enough showers could you?

I feel sorry for Lazarus' family, especially her husband and daughter. Comments about her looks are shallow and hurtful. I feel hatred for what she did, but I am confident she will pay a price for this in this lifetime and in the afterlife. We don't need to make hateful comments about her looks.

Let's focus instead on supporting the Rasmussen family and in supporting the memory of Sherri who was obviously a beautiful person inside and out.

Shannon said...

Oh, and great job Sprocket for keeping us all well-informed during the trial. Without you we would really be in the dark. Surprisingly, this trial is getting very little coverage.

Sprocket said...

I really debated within myself to publish the negative comment about Lazarus'looks.

I have tried to let people have their voice, but if this continues I will have to start censoring.

Please be mindful that there are two families that need our consideration here. It's not just the Rasmussen's who are suffering through this trial. So are the many relatives and friends of Lazarus. They need our consideration too, and it doesn't help them to call Lazarus ugly.

Be mindful of the fact that two prosecution witnesses have called Lazarus a friend in their testimony. Think of all the people who worked with Lazarus and what they are feeling, too.

This is a difficult case on everyone involved.

Anonymous said...

Please jury convict this murderer. Of course she's guilty: why else would the marriage certificate have been one of the only items stolen? And how convenient her pistol was stolen from her car. If she gets off this will be a travesty.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Overland, in his cross-examination, hopes to give jurors inclined to vote not guilty a reason to go that way. There may be some jurors who think "it was a long time ago" or "Stephanie Lazarus had a good record in the LAPD," or even "we weren't there and don't know what happened."

The Casey Anthony verdict shows nothing can be taken for granted.

David In TN

Francaise said...

Hi Sprocket,

Do you have any sketches of John Rutten or the rest of the familly?

That would be great to post them if you do have them or ask artist Thomas Broersma if he has them. Thank for all you are doing.

Anonymous said...

Censorship of comments is good; particularly when we all remember that each individual "belongs" to somebody. Let's not be so shallow that we lose sight of how important a mother, wife, daughter and friend is valued and loved by other individuals. How can we be so insensitive? No one is perfect in EVERY way?

We should be focused on good prevailing over wrong-doers; the worse crime committed against another can only be murder. What drives a person to commit such brutal actions as that revealed in the Rasmussen's autopsy report? What "lines" are crossed governing human behavior? How does justice prevail so that it is equitably applied?

Sprocket said...

I don't believe Ruetten will be on the defense witness list. I don't have any inside information about that. Just my opinion.

Lazarus cleared:
Lyle Mayer was the 1986 lead detective. It will be interesting to see what the defense presents on the stand.

Upcoming prosecution witnesses:
I do not know who is next. I think this is the last DNA expert (since Fedor testified about both torn fingernails collected at the scene). I'm basing my guesses on what the prosecution has presented so far, what they told us in opening statements they would present and who has not testified.

We still need to hear from the firearm expert who will testify about the blanket and the gunshot residue on it. Van Nuys Detective Jim Nuttall testified at the prelim but he has not testified in the trial. We don't know if he will be called.

There might also be someone from the coroner's office to testify about known procedures back in 1986 in clipping nails. At a pre-trial hearing, Presby stated the coroner's office eventually went to disposable clippers, but they don't know "when" that was.

We still haven't heard from a crime scene analyst who may testify that the scene was staged.

Then once the people rest, the defense gets to put on their case. And no, I don't know who is on the defense witness list.

Family Sketches:
You can find images of Nels and Loretta Rasmussen on the web. Just use google images and put in their name. I don't know if you can find Ruetten's current image on the web. You might. I don't believe Sherri's sister or Sherri's former roommate Jayne Goldberg have put themselves in front of media cameras.

In LA County, I don't know of any judge who has agreed to let individuals in the gallery be photographed (or sketched). In my experience, that has never happened. I think it's more important to let these individuals have their privacy while attending this trial.

Kathy said...

Our society is too caught up on what a person looks like to the detriment of evaluating someone's character.

Lazarus is before a jury of her peers to judge her behavior, not her looks. Battling throat cancer and being jailed for years would tend to effect one's appearance negatively.

It doesn't matter how physically attractive you are, old age and gravity eventually win out.

Utah Chris said...

Great work Sprocket - thanks for the update this morning to enjoy with my coffee. Any update on teh Spector appeal?

Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued by John Ruetten. How must this man feel to learn that someone he liked, cared about and was intimate with, murdered the love of his life. His third party feelings of guilt must be overwhelming. Why is he in the gallery? It's obvious to me. This is his wife who was murdered! As for pictures of him, go on Linknd. He has a professional post.

NancyB said...

Kathy, I agree with your .comment but I offer one correction. Lazarus is not suffering from throat cancer, which has a very high mortality rate. She had thyroid cancer and treatment for it prior to her arrest. I would imagine that presently she is on maintenance doses of thyroid hormone replacement pills. I remember her brother Steven at one point complained in the media about her high bail and that she needed her medication. The survival rate with most thyroid tumors is extremely high.

Anonymous said...

Sprocket, in your opinion do you think Stephanie is advised to keep her head down and be detached from the jury? Do you think she was also advised to not stand when the jury enters and exits? Her behavior seems very odd and disrespectful, which is why it seems to me that someone told her to do that. So many comments on her video talk about her "scary eyes" so maybe that's why?

Sprocket said...

I have no idea what Lazarus has been advised by her counsel.

All I can say is it's interesting.

Lazarus does not look "scary" at the defense table in court. That's not what those of us in the courtroom are seeing when she enters from the jail area and smiles at her family who are there consistently to support her. Her mother, brother and husband are there every day. She does not look anything like her booking photo or the images we saw in the interview video.

Being in jail for 2.5 years and away from daily sunlight takes it's toll on a person.