Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 7

UPDATED February 16th, 4:33 AM for clarity.

Stephanie Lazarus, June 2009

Now that a majority of the science witnesses are behind us (there are still more to come) we expect "motive" witnesses from the prosecution today. Like I mentioned yesterday, Mike Hargreaves is expected to take the stand. Hargreaves testified at the preliminary hearing, but has recently remembered new information. He will be the first witness up today. John Ruetten, Sherri Rae Rasmussen's husband at the time of her death is also expected to testify today.

8:13 AM
I have incorrectly identified DNA analyst Jennifer Francis as Jennifer Flowers. I will make the corrections at the lunch break today.

I can't believe I made that mistake with a witness! At least her name is correct on the witness list! The press has really shown up in force today. Blankstein and Rubin are here from the LA Times, Mona the sketch artist, ABC is here, Steven Mikulan and several more.

10:36 AM
Mike Hargreaves testified today he remembered that Stephaine Lazarus told him that a few days prior, she had lost her back-up weapon in a fanny pack and was asking him how to report the loss of the weapon. This is totally new information coming from the witness.

Gail Lopes, older sister to John Ruetten testified about a letter she found amongst her late mother's belongings. It was from Stephanie Lazarus. In it, Lazarus said, "I'm totally in love with John and this past year has really to me up."

John Ruetten is still expected to testify today.

12:20 PM
The courtroom was packed this morning, with media and family members all on the edge of their seats waiting to hear John Ruetten on the stand. At moments that became hard for me to watch, Ruetten broke down more than once while testifying about the last months of Sherri Rasmussen's life. When shown a photograph of Sherri, himself and Sherri's mother on the Rasmussen family boat, Ruetten started to choke up and quietly sob. Seeing his former son-in-law become emotional on the stand, Nels Rasmussen leaned forward and began to sob. I believe I saw Loretta start to cry also. It was very hard for me to see this family in pain.

Ruetten testified that as far as he can remember, after he started dating Sherri Rasmussen in the summer of 1984, there was only one other incident where he was in the company of Stephanie Lazarus. That meeting occurred after he became engaged to Rasmussen but before he moved into her Van Nuys condo.

Mike Heargreaves testimony this morning, of Lazarus telling him a few days prior, she lost her off-duty weapon in a fanny pack, contradicts a police report thirteen days after the murder, where the defendant stated she lost her weapon and a gym bag when her car was broken into the city of Santa Monica. Heargreaves testified that she never mentioned her car being broken into to him.

John Ruetten is under cross examination. Overland is questioning him on every aspect of his memory on events over 25 years ago from when he was interviewed by detectives to when he specifically had sex with the defendant.

6:00 PM:
Let me back up, and talk a little bit about the morning session. This is a short synopsis, until I can get my detailed notes up on this day.

After Gail Lopes testified, out in the hallway on break, Lopes and Loretta Rasmussen hugged each other. Then Lopes hugged Nels Rasmussen. It was an emotional scene between all three. When court resumed, Lopes joined the Rasmussen family in the gallery.

After the break, we had John Ruetten take the stand. Ruetten took the jury through attending UCLA, when he met Lazarus in his sophomore year when they both lived in Dykstra Hall. Lazarus was a year behind him. Ruetten testified about Lazarus' level of fitness and that she played junior varsity basketball at the intercollegiate level. During his time at UCLA Ruetten testified that he did not have a steady girl friend and does not recall Lazarus having a steady boyfriend. He and Lazarus made out a few times, necking, kissing, but did not have sexual intercourse. Ruetten mentioned an incident where he was showering and Lazarus entered the shower and took all his clothes. After he graduated they took a few overnight trips together. At least once a group including Lazarus visited his parents in San Diego. They remained friends after college and Ruetten attended Lazarus' college graduation.

It was the summer of 1981 when he began dating the defendant. Ruetten believes they had sex approximately "twenty to thirty times" between 1981 and 1984. Ruetten testified that during that time they never had an "exclusive" relationship and he never considered her his girlfriend. "We were good friends. We saw each other off and on. Some of those times we had sexual intercourse," Ruetten told the jury. They saw each other approximately two to three times a month and Ruetten can only remember one or two times when Lazarus spent the night. During that time, he was dating other women.

In the summer of 1984 he met his future wife, Sherri, at a party. Soon after they started dating and he was seeing her exclusively. "We were dating steadily from the time we met, about eight to ten times a month," Ruetten testified. He did not feel it was necessary to tell Lazarus about his relationship with Rasmussen. "Stephanie and me, we were just friends, and I can't remember the last time I saw her before I met Sherri," Ruetten said. When Ruetten is asked if he met Rasmussen's parents, that's when he starts to break up on the stand.

Ruetten and Rasmussen got engaged in May 1985 and that weekend purchased the new BMW 318i for Rasmussen. They announced to UCLA friends that they were getting married. Within 30 to 60 days of the engagement, he moved into Rasmussen's Van Nuys town home. He cannot remember the exact month that he received a call from the defendant, sometime in the early evening. She was very upset. He had not experienced anything like this before from Lazarus. She was full blown crying. She wanted him to come over so they could talk. He went over to her condo. Lazarus confessed her deeper feelings for Ruetten, that she loved him. She had never expressed these feelings to him before. It was clear to him that Lazarus was upset about his engagement and that he was "moving on". Lazarus asked Ruetten for sex that night. She asked more than once. She was still very upset.

Ruetten tries to explain why he had sex with Lazarus that night. "She had no closure. I was way over my head and didn't know how to calm her down. Other than being stupid and a young man." Being intimate that night with Lazarus did not change his plans. He was going to marry Rasmussen, and Ruetten testifies he made that clear to the defendant. After that incident, he never saw Lazarus again until sometime after his wife's murder.

Ruetten said that within weeks after his wife's death, lead detective Lyle Mayer informed him that Lazarus had been cleared of any possible involvement in his wife's murder. Several years later after a move back to the Los Angeles area, he had sexual intercourse with Lazarus two more times.

Towards the end of today's testimony, we had a bit of drama in the courtroom. Court ended early for the jurors and on an explosive note between attorney Mark Overland and Judge Perry.

It was around 3:30 PM when Mark Overland was having trouble finding the specific dates of interviews John Ruetten had with law enforcement personnel over the years. About 20 minutes earlier, I observed Judge Perry dropping the tip of his pen directly down onto his desk a few times with the hint of an aggravated expression on his face. Not long after that he interrupted Overland’s questioning of the witness and asked him, “As you sit here today, is it your belief you did not check the door to see if it was locked or not?” Ruetten’s response was, “That’s correct.”

Overland then asked a few more questions, specifically whether or not he would leave the front door open to let their cat back in the condo.

Judge Perry sent the jury out and addressed Mark Overland.

JP: This is taking forever. You’ve got to refer to which interview. Mr. Presby, if you will assist (snip) ...let’s mark the date of the interview so we know what we’re talking about (snip) put dates on them.

SP: (I believe Mr. Overland is) referring to them by bates stamp.

JP: That’s not acceptable. We’re talking about interviews in 1986 and 2009.

Then he says something about not being confusing.

JP: I’m going to send the jury home and have counsel (be prepared?)... (snip) We took 20 minutes and asked two rather unimportant questions, ‘did you leave the front door open at night’ (snip) That’s what I think.

MO: I resent the courts (insinuation?) again! The court has done this before! If the transcript (where he) said before (that he left the door open) I’m entitled to ask that of the witness!

Overland is very upset! Judge Perry gets angry back!

MO: I think it’s unfair! (Overland explains his position more regarding his views on the court’s comments.)

Judge Perry then reads (in a loud, commanding tone), “765 of (Evidence Code? Trial procedure?) The court shall exercise reasonable control of witnesses to make rapid (con?) (snip) and to protect witnesses from undue harassment and embarrassment! I think your cross is not to ascertain the truth! I think you’re taking things out of context, (like we saw several times? earlier?)!!! But lets not take this back and forth, (handing the witness papers) taking the courts time!

Mark Overland is very angry now in his tone.

MO: My concern is my cross examination! I’m calling attention to the court! (The court is not supposed to have? any?) bias!!!! (?) ....any concerns of bias, and that’s all I have to say!!!

There is more to Overland’s comments that I missed. This is the first trial I’ve covered in Judge Perry’s court, but I’ve heard that this is not uncommon for him to get frustrated that things are not moving along as fast as he would like.



Anonymous said...

Dear Sprocket,

Thanks again for your enormous effort to keep us up-to-date.

The most interesting witness for me is John Ruetten. His behaviour seems somewhat "odd", if that´s a right word.

Wkr Christina

Crickit said...

Can't wait to read what happened in court today. I agree that John Ruetten will be the most interesting person to hear testimony from since he has been very quiet and private. Thanks again Sprocket!

Starbright said...

Ah yes, the former roommate and the husband of the deceased (and ex-boyfriend). What a day to be in court! No wonder the media has crowded in today. Can't wait to hear all about it.


Anonymous said...

Mike Hargreaves has testified he remembered that Stephaine Lazarus told him that a few days prior, she had lost her back-up weapon in a fanny pack. Could she have been asking him that to cover herself? Or is he trying to protect her? I guess the LAPD really does take care of each other.

NancyB said...

From seeing Hargreaves in court can you ascertain if he is older than Lazarus? Really, what I'm wondering is whether he was a more experienced police officer at the time they knew each other.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog. I almost feel like I'm in the courtroom with you.

Great job!

Anonymous said...

What was Lazarus' demeanor while Ruetten was on the stand? Did she show any emotion at all?

NancyB said...

A few days ago one of your devoted readers mentioned that she was "waiting to read your book on this case". Your response to the comment referenced Matthew McGough's excellent article in The Atlantic and that he is writing a book. I was thrilled to find that out! I love the way that he writes.

I once mentioned in a comment that there is a book in you. I never meant a book about this case per se rather, I believe that you should write a book about your entire transformative experience of this blog's formation. Your articles about the trials that you've so closely followed and documented would make a fascinating book. All the detail in your style of writing in your articles that comes alive for your readers. Your writing style is so real and immediate that on an almost daily basis devoted readers comment that they "feel like they were right there in the courtroom with you!" That says a lot!

All the new friends that you've made and the wonderfully talented people that contribute to this blog's trial coverage are a part of this really interesting story.

I maintain that you have a fabulous book in you that you need to write! Please do not feel that you must respond to my comment.

By Matthew McGough

Theresa M said...


Utah Chris said...

Wow... I have goose bumps reading about John Ruetten and Nels Rasmussen reaction to the photograph and the way you described it.

Interestingly, I'm stunned by the Mike Heargreaves testimony and the long forgotten detail or the reported theft.

Anonymous said...

Hargreaves contradicting the police report Lazarus filed does not help Lazarus.

Anonymous said...

To me, John Ruetten is a key to this trial in more ways than one. I have thought the defense, on cross or by calling him during their case, will hope the jury distrusts or dislikes Ruetten.

David In TN

Anonymous said...

Love your court updates. Ruetten is most interesting, because he has been so private. I cannot help wondering about extreme regret & guilt he must have, after admitting he had sex with Lazarus 3 years after his wife's murder, when Lazarus now stands trial for his wife's murder! It seems he was sending Lazarus mixed messages over the years. (IN NO WAY, excusing what she allegedly did.) I believe she's guilty of murder. If he knew Lazarus was stalking his wife, did he have ANY doubts of her innocence back then?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting entire video of initial interrogation of Lazarus. Astounding to me they questioned her for 1 1/2 hrs & so much of it was trivial conversation! Her going along with trivia & NOT saying, "come on, guys, what's this all about?" seems clear she knows exactly what it's all about. Also, her repeated use of "a million years ago" is clearly used to distance herself from real relationship with Ruetten & explain her "foggy memory." I, for one, clearly remember someone I was seriously in love with 30 years ago!

Anonymous said...

Will John Ruetten be on the stand again Thursday, February 16, starting again at 8:30 a.m.? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I was in court today and listened to John Ruetten testimony..dun,dun,dun.. I truly heard the sorrow in his voice and saw the tears in his eyes, this was a very difficult day. Could you ever imagine being married, coming home to find your wife of 3 months shot dead and then the woman that you have had an intimate relationship with before and after your wife's killing is the suspect...Both families and court observers were hanging on to his every word. During John's testimony she (Stephanie) sat looking down, trying not to make any eye contact with him. She looks very thin and pale, almost pasty. When I left the court room at the end of the day I did observe Stephanie look over to her family and smile while her husband blew a few kisses her way. It must be very difficult for both families. Did she really do this unspeakable act, only she knows. I doubt very much that she will take the stand. But if she does that will be the testimony we all will be waiting to hear.

Sprocket said...

Nancy B,
Hargreaves did look a bit older than Stephanie, but not by much. Being an "older" person myself, I don't "feel" old, but seeing my own gray hair in the morning does bring me back to reality that I'm not really as young as I think I am inside my head.

Anonymous @ 12:59 PM & Theresa M:
Lazarus did not seem to be as intently writing at the defense table today. It did appear to me that she glanced over at Ruetten when he identified her for the record at the beginning of her testimony.

Utah Chris:
We still have to hear from the individual who took the report in Santa Monica where she reported her weapon stolen. Once both witnesses have testified, we can truly compare their testimony. My comment in my notes was comparing Hargreaves current testimony to the preliminary hearing testimony of the auto burglary report in Santa Monica.

Dave in TN,
From the cross exams I've seen Overland conduct so far, to the one of Ruetten today, it appears that Overland is rooting out any discrepancies in Ruetten's testimony to his prior sworn statements to police.

There has not been any testimony from Ruetten about Lazarus "stalking" his wife. We've only heard about a single confrontation between Lazarus and Rasmussen, and that occurred before the marriage.

Anon @6:33 PM:
The entire 72 minute video will not be shown to the jury. It remains to be seen what exactly was redacted through pretrial motions.

You are too kind! It's my opinion you have an exaggerated perception of my writing abilities.

Sprocket said...

Ruetten will be back on the stand tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM, continuing with cross examination.

baileybosco said...

Thank you! Without T&T we would not be aware of what's taking place in the courtroom. You need to know that you have more followers than you are aware of. Keep up the great work....

Anonymous said...

Agree with BaileyBosco! This trial is definitely "TV worthy" and without your detailed coverage, we would have no idea of what is happening in the courtroom. KABC in Los Angeles did less than a minute on this story tonight. Thanks so much, Sprocket!


Susan said...

You wrote: Several years later after a move back to the Los Angeles area, he had sexual intercourse with Lazarus two more times.

Amazing! Did Ruetten say anything else about this "post-murder" relationship?

Also, has Ruetten said anything about his post-murder relationship with his former in-laws? Is there any indication of what they think of him, or vice versa?

Thanks for your coverage!!!

Anonymous said...

I want to personally tell you, that you are doing an excellent job of keeping bloggers informed on this explosive trial! In spite of all the questions, comments, and in some cases, repeated questions, you still are so kind to take time to answer with such in-depth detail.I pray that your car get repaired soon, so that your daily court commute will be easier. Again, keep up the magnificent works. Your audience is large,I personally tune in from Birmingham, Al!

Sprocket said...

Ruetten did not see Lazarus after his wife's death until a trip to Hawaii in 1989 when he heard that she was there with a male friend. I will have more about Ruetten's post murder relationship with Lazarus when my detail notes for that day are finished.

My car:
Is waiting on parts to come in. It's more of an inconvenience to Mr. Sprocket, since I ask him to take me to the Red Line train, instead of the Orange Line, so my morning commute is faster. It's the evenings that make coming home longer since I need to take another bus after the Orange Line and then there is a few blocks walk home.

Taking the Orange Line and Red Line Train is much cheaper than driving downtown. With my car fixed, I could drive to the Orange line and back home.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Mr. Sprocket!

Where on your blog can I view the entire 72 minute video of Stephanie Lazarus' interrogation as referenced by one of the other posters? If it's not on your blog, can you provide a link to the video? Thanks in advance for your help, and keep up the great work! You're AWESOME!!!! : )

Sprocket said...

Anonymouse @ 5:33 AM:

Sprocket = Betsy A. Ross.
Mr. Sprocket = My husband.

If you click on the STEPHANIE LAZARUS QUICK LINKS, the full video is linked there. It's on YouTube.

Here is the direct link to the video.

Just copy and paste that into your browser URL address bar.

Robert said...

Once again, Sprockets, thank you for your efforts.

I missed the morning rush but managed to stand in the entry and listen through the door. With all the coming and going I missed a few things.

You state Lazarus partner testified that she told him she'd lost her personal weapon "a few days prior" - a few days prior to the murder, to his testimony, to the report of it being stolen? What time frame does this refer to?

I heard Ruetten testify that Lazarus played women's JV Basketball at UCLA, which is not an intramural sport, it is/was at the inter-collegiate level. It was Ruetten who played intramural basketball. Not a big deal but he made that distinction and that was one thing I heard clearly through the door.

In the afternoon I got a seat. I was surprised by several things. First, the DA specifically asked if there was anything missing from the condo other than his wife's purse and the BMW. Ruetten confirmed those were the only things missing, so apparently the marriage license was not stolen?

Secondly, Ruetten said there was glass on the floor of the garage, I guess meaning the thief broke the window on the BMW to gain entry. Why would a thief break a window when they had the car keys unless they were trying to make it look like something it wasn't? Did the LAPD criminalist who did the forensic on the car testify that a window had been broken out? Was the purse recovered in the car or was it never recovered?

Lastly, it sure seemed like Overland was making the prosecution's case for them by going over and over Ruetten's relationship with Lazarus, the sex, her meeting his family etc etc. I though he'd want to steer clear of that and agree with Ruetten that it was only casual. Now, both tables have underscored that it was a significant relationship and that definitely goes to motive. You're right about Lazarus during his testimony.

Re, judge Perry. I thought he was more than patient with an aging attorney who could not seem to get his act together. If Overland had been fresh out of law school, Perry would have stopped him two minutes into the twenty minutes. To me, that was mismanagement of the case file and some pretty sloppy lawyering. All the papers flying and confusion at his table would not have inspired confidence in me if I was Lazarus.

Keep up the good work.

Utah Chris said...

I'm thinking the defense is attempting to smear John Ruetten enough to suggest to the jury he was culpable and/or that some unrelated third party opportunity existed.

I can't understand the relevance of the cross-examination of John's testimony to the number of times they slept together.

I'm holding my breath to see where this all leads today.

I wonder if Lazarus gave Overland some marching orders in the line of questioning to lead somewhere later in the trial.

Anonymous said...

The testimony is riveting! Great job of reporting. For me, it is difficult to reconcile Ruetten's account of a distant, casual, "friends with benefits" type of relationship with Lazarus, against that of a woman driven to stalk and murder out of jealousy and rage. Ruetten, at least in digesting what is written, comes off as so unaware that Lazarus could be involved. If in fact Lazarus did this, the act itself seems to be so spiteful and revengeful, in that by all accounts Lazarus had nothing to gain, she herself did not seek Ruetten out for a relationship thereafter, she appears to have harbored no illusions that with Sheri gone, that she would have a future with Ruetten.
I think this case would be a "slam, dunk" if the one piece of evidence that directly implicates Lazarus, the collection of saliva from the bite mark swab, was immediately located by a correctly recorded chain of evidence as to its location and it could be shown that the evidence was sealed. It bothers me that it took two days to find the envelope and that at least a portion of it was torn and that there is no written record of how the envelope became torn and once inside the envelope is the vial.
If I were a betting person, I would chance that Lazarus will testify. Although in her interrogation tape she appears shaky, she has had a few years to prepare. She will no longer be caught off guard and she has years of experience in this very arena. In reading the reports from the courtroom, it appears that she has made little to no eye contact with jurors. One of the key factors a defendant needs to do is to "humanize" themselves with the folks who are deciding their fate. It's much easier to pass a harsh judgement on someone that you do have any experience with. I think Lazarus is methodically taking notes, appearing very professional and I expect that she will take the stand. I think she needs to, in that the jury will want to hear from her.

Anonymous said...

from what i both imagine and see is going on in that courtroom, lazarus' body language screams "guilty!"
she sits tight up against the defense table, always looking downwards, shuffling documents, looking at court papers, passing stacks of paper to her lawyer's daughter/aide -- papers and documents she has undoubtedly seen a thousand times.
not once does she turn her head in the direction of the prosecutors or jury. in fact, she seems to be ignoring everything in the room except for the papers she uses to busy herself.
when ruetten testified, she never even glanced in his direction.
she's trying to give the impression of being just a rather unremarkable -- and barely involved -- piece of a larger puzzle. she wants to seem like an observer, not a participant, in the events surrounding the murder.
it was so sad - sherri's elderly, white-haired father crying during some of ruetten's testimony and when photos of his late daughter were shown.
it's hard to decide how much to blame ruetten for being such a cad -- having sex with lazarus while he was living with the beautiful and trusting sherri; and then having sex with lazarus again after sherri was so brutally killed (three bullet holes, a very mean-looking bite and a beating -- that screams "crime of passion").
"some" guys really are pigs - no question about it. unfortunately, people will hear about what ruetten did and say "all" guys are pigs.
i don't think the still-suffering ruetten is a pig, but i do think he's ultimately a cad.
keep up the great work, sprocket!

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there more than one encounter between Sherri Rasmussen & Lazarus? I read Sherri came home once to find Lazarus inside her condo. Also, Sherri told her parents Lazarus was following her at times. Lazarus also journaled seeing John's car in restaurant parking lot & waiting 30 minutes for him to come out. I think Lazarus' motive for having sex w/John after his engagement to Sherri was to try to break it up. She went right to Sherri with that info. I also think there's more to the Hawaii story 3 years after Sherri's murder. You don't just "meet up" by chance in Hawaii & have sex with an old friend. All of this must be so painful for Sherri's family.

Anonymous said...

I apologize Mrs. Sprocket for referring to you as Mr. Sprocket!! For some reason, I automatically assumed that you were a gentleman (I haven't read your bio). So, please accept my sincerest apologies. Thanks! : )

P.S. I was able to access the video. Thanks so much!!

Sprocket said...

Let me see if I can answer some questions before I put this thread to bed.

Robert: Hargreaves was not her "partner." He was her roommate for almost 2 years. We don't know the time frame, other than, she told him she lost the back-up weapon "a few days prior". This means, she lost the weapon a few days prior to when she told him.

We have not heard about the marriage license. We don't know if the MSM got that right and it was ruled inadmissible, or Ruetten just forgot about it when he testified.

The glass on the floor of the street is referring to the glass that was broken in the sliding glass door of their patio off the kitchen. This glass had two bullet holes in it. The entire sliding glass doors were shattered. There was no damage to the car. It was found in perfect condition, the keys in the ignition.

The purse was found by two Latino "gardeners" and given to a neighbor who testified. That testimony was on Day 1 of the trial and is up on the blog.

Anonymous @4:13 PM:
We've heard in the press that there was more than one encounter, but there is no one to testify about those events except....the victim. If anyone else does, it's hearsay.

The Hawaii meet up was happenstance. That's pretty much accepted.