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.


Anonymous said...

Oh Sprocket!!! I'm SO EXCITED!!! Ruetten IS THERE today :) It would be SO GRAND for him to put the finishing nails in the Lazarus coffin by testifying the Marriage License was taken!!! I'm sitting on the edge of my seat ~ waiting to hear from today's proceedings :) Also, I think I read that Dr. Slimball Murray is expected in court today for some kind of bail release thingy?! Hope THAT doesn't happen! Be Well Sweetstuff, Your fan, Ilene

NancyB said...

Sprocket I am so sorry to hear about the problem with the head of the 6th/7th rib. OOuuu...that is painful and I'm hopeful that between the tennis ball & Mr Sprocket you attain some relief soon. Your commitment and dedication to blogging this trial is something all of your dedicated readers much appreciate. Good thing that you have a high pain tolerance.

I'm loving your court fashion updates very much!

I am a little confused about the incident from yesterday where the prosecution neglected to provide discovery information on Schanfield's population studies. Was there some plausible explanation as to why the prosecution did not comply in a timely manor?

Rest up this weekend.

Jayne Weiandt said...

Oh how so very very sad for the Rasmussens and John to hear this played out. Poor Sherri. She was so loved by many. I can still hear her infectious giggly laughter in my mind. It brings tears to my eyes.

Jayne E.

Sprocket said...

Anon @10:37 AM
It's my understanding that Ruetten will not retake the stand in the prosecution's case-in-chief. His testimony is finished.

Nancy B:
Because Overland asked specific questions challenging the computer programs that are used to determine the statistical DNA analysis, the prosecution wanted to add ADDITIONAL questioning of this already scheduled witness, in his role as a population geneticist expert. Since this was a very late, last minute request by the prosecution, and not giving Overland time to prepare for this direct testimony, the Judge ruled in Overland's favor and would not let the prosecution present this information now, in their case-in-chief. They could recall the witness in their rebuttal case, if they decide to put on a rebuttal case. So, it had nothing to do with anything the prosecution did wrong, imho.

LS said...

hope your ribs feel better! that is a long recovery--
interesting notes you make-- I so appreciate your details!! SL family how do they appear to be holding up?
love your blog-- each day cant wait for your updates!

Utah Chris said...

This is the first testimony you describe of how the confrontation took place (i.e. starting in the kitchen and ending with the final assault). Could you run us through how many total shots were fired? How many did the 38 hold? Three were in the body. Where were the others? I'm inclined she attempted to escape out the front door and was recaptured.

Really? Has it been 26 years to the day later?

Natalie said...

Sprocket- Love reading your blog. Thank you so much for the daily updates. I hope you feel better soon.

Shannon said...

Hi Sprocket:

You are a very talented writer, and I love it when you stretch yourself by adding ancillary details about clothing and atmosphere in the courtroom!

Keep up the great work! No one is covering this trial at the level you are, so you are really owning it! I also appreciate the sensitivity you bring to this case. These are real people with real feelings.

I read that Sherri had been married only a few months when she was brutally murdered. I got married in December of 1985, which I believe is roughly the same time Sherri and John began their lives as a married couple. So much time has passed. I am sure they had planned a full life together. It makes me sad for them. I have been blessed with a great marriage and 3 kids. When I think of what was taken from the Rasmussen family, it keeps me centered on the fact that the perpetrator must pay the price for her crime.

I do believe Stephanie Lazarus committed this vicious crime. Even though she appears to have lived a crime free life from that point forward complete with husband and child, she should be deprived of her freedom at least from this point forward.

Thank you for your continued great coverage! I sign in every day to see your updates!

Francaise said...


I really hope you feel better for all of us that appreciate you.

Anonymous said...

Yeah... I googled Safarik when you 1st mentioned him. Talk about bringing in the "big dogs". Very impressive :). Thank-you Sprocket for everything you do here. ♥♥♥

US_DOJ_Gov said...

Lazarus' husband, Scott Young, is a detective with LAPD.

Scott Young knows how to analyze & follow evidence.... I wonder if Scott Young quietly knows his wife committed the murder ??

Crickit said...


Thank you for being our eyes and ears in the courtroom!

I love that you are so detail oriented and let us know what people are wearing and all of the sights and sounds in the courtroom.

I really feel for Sherri's family and John as they had to hear about the struggle and details of her last minutes of life. They are all in my prayers and will continue to be.

Hope you are able to get some rest and that you will be feeling better soon.

Shannon said...


Denial is a very powerful mechanism we are all given to help us protect ourselves from unspeakable pain. How else could a woman stay with a child molester? You see it all the time; volumes of evidence, many victims etc. and they still stay.

I respect her husband. He is a victim in all of this mess. I feel for him and their child. I am sure deep down in places we don't talk about, he does know the truth.

Shannon said...

Incidentally, Internal Affairs did an in depth special on this case. They show the town home and go step by step through what happened during the commission of this crime. I think it is the best program I have found on this case -- apart from Sprocket's trial coverage.

Here is the link to the first segment on YouTube. The rest can be pulled up from the you tube menu -- 6 parts in all. Many photos never seen before and very good background on Lazarus too.

Sprocket said...

Anon on Day 11 Entry:
QUOTE:Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to say I am totally lost in trying to follow this blog. Trial day four (Feb. 10?) was posted on Feb. 20? I then click on
Newer Post, and it comes up on today? Something about Phil Spector showed up in my fruitless searching, too. Can anyone point out what I'm sure is the proper way to navigate chronologically?

I'm sorry you are having difficulty navigating T&T. There are more than one contributor to the blog who are adding their own stories on events they follow. Consequently, you will not have the same case/story one right after the other in the link "Newer Posts". That link takes you to the next story on the blog, not necessarily the next story on this case.

There are two places you can look to find the chronology of the Lazarus Case, and they are found on the far right column of the blog. Scroll down the right side of the blog until you come to a header that says QUICK LINKS. Underneath that is the defendants name. That's a link. Click on Lazarus' name and it will take you to a page that has every story I've ever written on the case in chronological order by SECTION. The pretrial coverage is grouped together. The preliminary hearing coverage is grouped together and the trial coverage is all together, all in date order.

The second place you can find the entries is below that in the T&T Archive. This list has every story on T&T in date order. You can open up a particular month of a given year and find all of T&T's stories in that month.

It was a difficult day for the Rasmussen family. It brought me to tears, knowing that Ruetten was sobbing behind me.

Utah Chris:
I'm working on a detailed write up of today's testimony, to give everyone an understanding of how the crime scene analyst saw the case.

Thank you!

Sherri was married on November 23rd, 1985. She was murdered the day after her three-month wedding anniversary.

I'm a bit better today, thank you!

Anon @3:37:
Thank you!

Thank you!

Mr. Sprocket worked on my back a bit this morning at I did have less pain today sitting in court. I'm not in much pain leaning over, writing. The problem is when I try to sit up and rest my back against the bench or stretch.

Avery21 said...

Sprocket: Love your posts! Thank you!
IMO, worst punishment for SL would be losing her own daughter, (by going to prison.) Could she relate to SR's parents then??? Is it true SL hasn't seen her daughter since her arrest? Would love to get inside her head: any tiny amount of relief she's been caught & no longer pretend to be something she isn't? Cannot imagine carrying that secret for 25 years! Or does she think 25 years of good citizenship has made up for crime? Will anything happen to SL's daughter adoption if convicted, or will husband continue to raise her? So many lives impacted by her horrific act!!

Anonymous said...

I was there in court this morning with my son - we sat in the last row behind the family. It was so very sad for the family! Thank you for your great notes - I was hoping to say hello and thanks - but there was no good time! Appreciate your work so much!

Anonymous said...

You never know, but it seems to me that Mr. Overland hasn't made much headway while cross examing the prosecution witnesses. The DNA match is still there.

I can't praise your work covering this trial highly enough.

David In TN

debbiescalisi said...

Hello Sprocket - I got hooked on this case in 2009 when even though I live in The OC, we receive the LA Times and I read about the case. That was it for me and I tried to follow it all over and even online the LA Times did not seem to have every day court stories until I googled and found your column. I am fascinated about this case. Maybe because I was about Sherri's age when I married in 1984 (and by the way, to a criminal defense attorney fairly well known through Southern California) and I can identify those first few months as being very romantic, difficult, different, everything. I have been so interested in this case because it scares me they are going to let Stephanie go free even though the DNA is so right. And, I have always had a REAL problem with the husband John and how he just slinked away....Sherri's friend was right: any other man would have fought for justice for Sherri !!! Good work on keeping us updated and looking forward to the 48 Hours TV version too !! Debbie

Mark from OC said...

Love it Sprock! And Shannon is spot on.

Burning Question: Why didn't the Prosecution call Nels? I mean, how powerful would it have been for the jury to hear how he BEGGED the lead detectives time and time again to investigate "the female officer who has been harrasing my daughter"...only to be told "You've been watching too many TV shows..." I wonder if it was a heresay thing?

Francaise said...

Sprocket, I am grad to hear you are getting better.

Sprocket said...

Lazarus is certainly facing over 25 years behind bars. I have no idea if she has seen her daughter since her arrest. At least five or more of her family and friends show up to court every day in support.

Anon @ 9:48 PM:
I'm so sorry you did not get a chance to say hello. I hope you are able to get to court again for the defense case.

David in TN:
Overland spent quite a bit of time in cross examination of the DNA witnesses. He pointed out to the jury every single sample that had DNA that could not belong to Lazarus. If I recall correctly, this was in relation to the male DNA found on hairs, the blanket and unknown DNA found on the fingernail clippings and scrapings.

48 Hours and Datelline have both done shows on this case. You can find them online at their web sites. The case isn't over yet. We still have yet to see the defense case. And, I never try to predict a jury. As we saw in the Anthony case, juries can surprise you.

Mark from OC:
Nels can only testify to things he has personally seen, heard or experienced about the defendant. Whatever his daughter might have said to him is considered hearsay.

I'm sure the prosecution completely researched the issue to see if Nels' recollections of conversations with his daughter would fall under exceptions to the hearsay rules of evidence. It's obvious they didn't.

Today is another day and I'll need to be worked on again. Probably won't be able to get to a chiropractor until the case is over.

Kathy said...

Great work, Sprocket.

I've been mulling over in my head why Overlund would make such a big point about Ruetten and Lazarus' so-called relationaship and their sex life. Wouldn't that speak even more to Lazarus' frame of mind and her jealousy to commit the murder?

Or was it to let the jury gain sympathy for Lazarus, see what a jerk Ruetten was, and be a mitigating factor in determining guilt?

The only person who could refute Reutten's claim of only hooking up twice after Rasmuessen's murder would be Stephanie Lazarus. I wonder if she would take the stand just to do this.

If Sherri Rasmussen had only documented her fears of Lazarus in a letter to her parents, Nels Rasmussen then would have been allowed to testify about the harrassment. Depending of course, if he had kept the letter.

Also, I remember in the initial investigation, the detective wrote down P.O. next to Lazarus' name as a potential suspect. P.O. meaning police officer. How did Lazarus' name even get into the investigation in the beginning if someone did not tell the detective to look at Lazarus as a suspect? It would of been either Nels Rasmussen or Ruetten. Would the original detective have to testify as to who told him this information?

I'll stop here. I could go on and on.

Thanks for all you do to bring this case out to all of us who can't be there. And, I love the drawings.

Sprocket said...

I don't claim to know the purpose of Overland's cross examination of Ruetten but here are some GUESSES

1. paint him as a cad.
2. portray him as someone whose testimony/memory you can't trust.
3. both of the above.

Lazarus name in the file was S. Lazarus, PO. The 2009 investigation did not initially know what PO stood for. Ruetten had to tell them when they called him.

Ruetten testified on the stand that in 1989, during the Hawaii trip/meeting, he told her that he gave her name to police regarding the death of his wife.

Mark from OC said...

Hi Sprocket,

Actually I was referring to Nels' discussions with the detectives (not Sherri) about how he kept hounding them to investigate SL. Surely one of the detectives would have remembered these discussions. That would be something he personally heard/experienced, yes?

And do you think SL will take the stand? I highly doubt it. MO is smart enough to know that SP will destroy her!


Sprocket said...

None of that is admissible for the trial.

Anonymous said...

As to the issue of the "stolen marriage certificate", was it ever established as a fact? If so, who testified to it?
Great coverage of the trial.
Thank you!!!!!!

Kathy said...


Ruetten admitted he slept with Lazarus at least twice after telling Lazarus he turned her name into the police in 1989 as a suspect in his beloved wife's murder.

Did he not even care enough to honor his memory of his wife? Or was this some sort of pyschological torture of Lazarus?

No wonder he was not a strong advocate in solving his wife's murder. And now he's holding hands with Rasmussen's mother walking into court!!

He is worse than a cad. I just can't come up with an appropriate term to describe him.

He and Lazarus would have made a great team together. And poor Sherri got in the middle of this and paid the ultimate price, as well as her family.

Sprocket said...

Anon @ 11:33 AM:

The marriage certificate. This is all conjecture on my part. I don't have an official source to verify my thoughts on this.

It's my GUESS that the issue of the marriage certificate is similar to the hearsay issue regarding what Sherri Rasmussen told her father about having a problem, or being stalked.

There is a belief by either law enforcement and/or the family, but they don't have a witness to testify that they know the certificate or a copy of the certificate was actually stolen.

John Ruetten was asked under direct, if there was anything besides the BMW or (Sherri's purse) that was taken from the condo and he replied (without going back and digging through my notes for the exact quote) something to the effect of "No," or, "Not to my knowledge".

I don't see it that way at all.

You have to realize that Ruetten (time frame unknown) gave her name to police in 1986 or soon after. He testified that LE told him in 1986 that Stephanie Lazarus had been cleared. Although he gave her name to police,it's my understanding (without going back to my notes to check) he did not believe Lazarus had any involvement in his wife's death.

So, if that was his mindset, how is getting back together with Lazarus years after the murder psychological torture? I just don't see it.

It's my impression that Ruetten was deeply scarred by his wife's brutal murder and it took him a long time to move past this tragedy and go forward in life. He lived with his parents for a few weeks directly after the murder and then went to Northern California to live with his older sister for at least nine months, and to heal. This is what he needed to do. I honestly don't see that as abandoning Sherri. I see it as what he needed to do to survive.

Anonymous said...

I'm very curious about the loss of another juror yesterday afternoon ... any details on that? All of the alternates left are male, correct?

Darlene (same as anon 9:48 pm )

Sprocket said...

I will be including that in my write up of yesterday's testimony that I'm working on now.

NancyB said...

Are you able to discern which parts of the videotape that were shown in court the judge disallowed the jury to see?

Anonymous said...

As to the missing marriage certificate, I reviewed you entry on opening statements by the DA's office and you state that it was specifically mentioned? It would appear that it would be an important circumstantia element that could have been described in the information provided by John Ruetten to the police. If it was, he could testify that it was taken from his house. It would not be hearsay because he could establish that it was there at one point and then it missing when he inventoried the contents of his house. He would have direct knowledge of the fact. Again, given that it was mentioned in the opening statement by the prosecution, I hope that they somehow did not drop the ball on what would appear to be an important element.

Sprocket said...

Nancy B:
I haven't had time Nancy. I'm working on getting yesterday's testimony done in detail.

It's not hard to figure out. It's towards the end when they are telling her that "friends of Sherri's have told them" (hearsay; can't be in front of a jury) or Lazarus answers, making that same statement, "If you have people who told you" ....


Also, the arrest was not on the video.

Sprocket said...

Anon @ 1:31 PM:

I don't have an answer. From my memory and notes, Presby mentioned it in opening statement.

Anonymous said...

Hi NancyB ... All I know is that I've watched the full version of the interrogation probably 8 or 9 times on YouTube now. Besides Lararus's insanely wild looking eyes, her uncomfortable guilty movements and her denial claiming it was "a million years ago", the fact is that if she was honestly innocent... she would have subjected to the request for the DNA swab they asked for. There is no question in my mind that she is guilty of this crime. Ok I just wanted to share that :) Hope everyone is having a nice weekend!

TS said...

Was it ever brought up in court how SL knew that SR was home sick the day of the murder? Did SL ask for the day off prior to the murder date - or on the actual date of the murder (perhaps when she somehow learned SR was at home)?

Sprocket said...

No, it was not brought up how she would have known ahead of time. That particular day, Lazarus had a "TO" = time off. It's debatable whether or not she scheduled that over a week in advance. She had four days off in a row, and the 24th was the fourth day.

If I'm remembering correctly (without checking my notes) she was back to work on the night shift the next day.

Not long after the murder, I believe she switched to the day shift.