Friday, February 17, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 9

UPDATED February 18th, 2012 8:02 AM Edited for content, clarity, accuracy.

Sherri Rae Rasmussen, victim

I will be working on my detail notes for Day 4 on my trip into downtown this morning. I do not know which witnesses are being called next. I don't know if we will hear from more detectives or criminalists or if we will hear from witnesses who knew the defendant. I might be a few minutes late for court because Mr. Sprocket is just now getting his work clothes on and we should have left 15 minutes ago. Hopefully I'll get there before 8:30 AM and get a good seat in the front row.

I made it to court on time. Pat LaLama and Steven Mikulan are in the hallway, sharing childhood stories. The Rasmussen family is in the hallway as well as Scott Young and two other gentlemen he's sitting with.

10:34 AM:
I have misidentified a woman in the gallery as a Rasmussen's sister Connie. It's actually Jayne Goldberg, who used to be Rasmussen's roommate.

We've heard from fingerprint expert George Herrara who did comparison analysis for prints at the scene. Identified some prints at the scene. He didn't do any comparison in a later investigation to Lazarus' prints.

12:30 PM:
In the morning, we also heard from Donald Barona, who worked for the Los Angeles Police and Revolver Athletic Club (LAPRAC). The LAPRAC sold guns at that location, but only to police officers. Barona testified about two weapons that Lazarus purchased through the LAPRAC. The documents that were introduced were the ATF (Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms) 4473 forms that are required to be completed by the seller and buyer on or near the date of sale.

Lazarus purchased a Smith & Wesson, Model 49, 38 caliber revolver on February 29th, 1984. She purchased another Smith & Wesson, Model 649 revolver, 38 caliber on March 19th, 1986.

Next up was Elaine Sena-Brown, who in 1986 worked as a community service officer for the city of Santa Monica. On March 9th, 1986, at 2:10 PM, Sena-Brown took a stolen property report from a vehicle from someone who identified themselves as Stephanie Lazarus. She filled out the form. Sena-Brown did not have an independent memory of taking the report, her testimony relied on the report itself and her normal practice. On the report, Lazarus stated that a gym bag, miscellaneous clothing, some cassettes and money were stolen, as well as her gun.

SP: Did she state where the firearm was located?

ESB: Yes. The glove box.

SP: Did she give a description of the weapon?

ESB: Yes.

The description as well as serial number of the weapon is listed on the report.

SP: She told you it had a 2 inch barrel?

ESB: Yes.

SP: Did she tell you there was any damage to the vehicle?

ESB: Yes.

SP: Did she use the word "punch"? (To describe the driver's side door lock.)

ESB: Yes.

SP: Did you write that on the report?

ESB: Yes.

SP: Is there anything in there that her gun was taken from a fanny pack?


SP: (At that time in 1986) Do you know what a fanny pack is?

ESB: Yes.

ESB: (The report) said taken from the glove box of the car?

ESB: Correct.

Next up is Steven Rodgers, a Product Services Representative for Federal Cartridge, an ammunition manufacturer. The parent company is ATK Alliant Techsystems. Rodgers testified about a bullet assembly machine 21, that has been in use since World War II. There are characteristics on the bullets, in the manufacturing that make them different from their competitors. Rodgers compared the "jacket crimp" on evidence item 42A (one of the bullets recovered from Rasmussen) to the jacket crimp on a Federal 38J 125g (gram) bullet. He testified that they were a match, indicating that the bullet recovered from Rasmussen was manufactured by Federal. This bullet was produced between the late 70's and 1991. At some time, this specific bullet was sold exclusively to law enforcement. At some point, these bullets were made available to the general public. A search of the company records could not turn up when those dates occurred.

In cross examination, Overland asked if he had reviewed "jacket crimp" records for the ammunition manufacturer "Speer" (Speer was obtained by the parent company, ATK; time frame of merger unknown or I missed it) from 1978 through 1986. Rodgers had not. Overland asked the witness how could he be certain that ammunition from Speer did not also contain this hoof-shaped jacket crimp shape. I believe the witness conceded he did not review records from Speer.

The next witness, Wonkeun (pronounced "one gun") Choi was still on the stand when we broke for lunch. He is a forensic computer examiner who examined several computers seized in the 2009 investigation. He found three computer searches for John Ruetten through America, a paid search site and dating from April 28th, 1998 to May 1st, 1999. As we broke for lunch, this witness was under cross examination.

2:36 PM
We just finished with witness #42 Richard Smith, LAPD forensics firearm expert. He testified that in 1986, the only ammunition authorized by patrol officers to carry was 38 Special Plus P 125g, made by Federal. This is specifically outlined in the recruit's manual for 1986. The manual also specifies which weapons officers were allowed to carry as a back-up weapon.

February 18th, 5:30 AM
When we broke for the long weekend, Detective Dan Jaramillo was still on the stand. I believe Nunez presents the witness. Jaramillo has been an LAPD officer for over 21 years. His current assignment is Robbery/Homicide, Robbery Special Division. In 2009 he was assigned to Homicide Special. Jaramillo states that Lazarus was assigned to the Commercial Crimes Division, right next door to Robbery Homicide.

PN: You shared office space?

DJ: There's a wall (dividing the units).

In May 2009, he was assigned this case. The investigation was "housed" in another location to maintain secrecy. The investigation was housed in the Criminal Court Building, (DA's office).

Jaramillo was made aware that the vehicle was found near Cohasset and Zombar. A google map is put up with a shortest route outline from the town home to the found vehicle. The distance was 2.5 miles.

This is what the map exhibit looked like that was put up on the overhead screen.

View Larger Map

Jaramillo also testified that he obtained a certified copy of the marriage certificate between Ruetten and Rasmussen. The marriage date on the certificate is November 23rd, 1985. They were married in Pasadena, California.

Then the video tape of the interview is presented. Jaramillo was wearing a wire for audio recording when he first approached Lazarus at her desk that Friday morning. There was also a separate video recording set up in the interrogation room. Jaramillo is asked if there was a location that was selected where the defendant would not be armed. Jaraillo responds, "Yes. The second floor jail."

Judge Perry instructed the jury that certain parts of the video have been redacted. He explains the legal meaning of redacted and told them they are not to speculate on why areas have been removed. Judge Perry explains that the transcript is only an aid to assist them in the recording.

When we broke for the day, the prosecution was at page 40 of the transcript. From my understanding, the redacted portions have to do with questions detectives asked of Lazarus, where they begin their statements with, statements like, "someone told us". Although these are perfectly acceptable questions (whether true or not) for a detective to use, these statements or questions and Lazarus' answers cannot be presented to the jury because they contain hearsay. I believe the part of the video where Lazarus is brought back into the room under arrest has been redacted.

This video was released to the media by Judge Perry in 2009. I have uploaded a complete copy of the video and you can watch it at THIS LINK. I also have on SCRIBD a complete copy of the transcript of the interrogation.

I've seen the video. I watched the jurors and members of Lazarus' family in the gallery as the video played. Scott Young leans forward to try to see the video from where he is sitting. Several members of her family watch it intently. When I look over at the jurors, most are reading the transcript. They would look at the video a bit then look back down at the transcript. Most of the gallery (who don't have a transcript) watch the video. Male Juror #9, mostly watched the video.
Once the jury was excused for the day, Judge Perry ruled on the motion to exclude third party evidence.

Judge Perry states that he has reviewed the motion to exclude third party culpability, specifically the burglary that occurred on April 11th, 1986 at 6840 Balboa.

JP: Mr. Overland, do you care to argue further?

MO: No, your honor.

JP: Here's my view. I do not believe this evidence meets the standard and I will exclude it. I have looked at Court's (exhibit) #6, Mayer's report from an interview with the witness (page numbers) and additional page #36. I have read the summary of Detective Stearns with the witness. I've also read the (police?) reports attached to the motion to exclude. (snip) There are some general similarities.

The killing was in the daytime. The April 11th, burglary was in the daytime. In the April 11th, stereo equipment, someone (somewhat?) involved. (She) saw one suspect loaded (stereo) equipment in a bag. A second suspect with a gun with a 4" barrel. (snip) There are several discrepancies. In the April burglary, jewelry was taken. Suspects got into the master bedroom, dresser drawers were gone through; a hope chest was gone through. In Rasmussen, no jewelry was taken from the master bedroom. In the April 11th burglary, those suspects left in a car. In Rasmussen, her car and purse were taken. In April (event), there was evidence of forced entry at the front door. In Rasmussen, no evidence of forced entry. Perry mentions the amount of violence to Rasmussen's body and the "killing shot" with the evidence of stippling on the body. There was no evidence to kill in the April 1th burglary. There was a discrepancy in the length of the barrel. Judge Perry mentions that he based some of his information on the preliminary hearing information about the quilt. The witness on April 11th said, "four inch barrel". Again, Perry states he doesn't put a lot of stock in the eye witness testimony (on that issue).

JP: There is noting that links the suspects to the incidents involving Ms. Rasmussen.

Judge Perry then quotes from People v. Scott, which is not a third party culpability case where the supreme court found not an error to join cases, and after that Edelbacher (sp?) which he states this evidence does not reach the Edelbacher standard. Again Judge Perry states there is no evidence linking the suspects (in April 11th incident) to Ms. Rasmussen's incident, and that's the ruling the court will make.

Then the issue of crime scene analysts and their testimony is gone over. The court previously ruled parties may offer expert opinion of crime scene.

JP: (People? Presby?) do you still plan to call an expert?

SP: Yes.

JP: Detective Mayer (defense crime scene expert) may give his reasons at the time that it was an interrupted burglary. (snip) Both experts can testify based on evidence observed by them.

Overland has a concern about the prosecution's expert, and the problem with his testimony (report?) is not limited to things at the scene. Judge Perry rules that he will give Overland leeway in regards to his cross of this witness.

And that's it. I will be posting the sketch artist's work sometime later today.


NancyB said...

Glad that you made it to court with time to spare. hey, I've been wondering if Pat Lalama was ever able to confirm whether Shannon Presby was a child star?

Kathy said...

It's my catch-up day at work to take care of miscellaneous stuff. I have my browser open to Trials and Tribulations, and I refresh periodically to catch your latest posts.

I don't know how many others out there that are doing the same thing I am, but I imagine there are quite a few.

Anonymous said...

This is the first I'm hearing about prints on the scene. Were there any besides the victim's?

Diane said...

Am now interested if John Ruetten gave any of the condo money to Nels R? Will you get back to us w/that one. I, so far, do not think John had anything to do with it.

Anonymous said...

From what I remember, Ruetten only made $10,000 on the sale of the condo.

I think Nels Rasmussen could of cared less about any $$$.

ritanita said...

The rest of the computer forensics will The rest of the computer forensics will definitely be a blast from the past. I look forward to hearing all about it. be a blast from the past. I look forward to hearing all about it.

Anonymous said...

I keep refreshing to get the latest also! Fascinating! Thank you so much Sprocket!

Robert said...

What interested me was the testimony of the Federal Firearms expert. He said that the bullet he identified for the prosecution was police only issue for most of the late seventies to early nineties, but then was sold to the public.

He was unable to identify a time in which it was available to the public... If he cannot identify a time/date when it was deemed fit for public purchase, how does he know it was ever sold to the public? In other words, shouldn't his testimony have been, "I cannot find anything in Federal's records that indicates it was sold to the public" ... instead of, "Federal sold it to the public but I cannot determine when?

How can a realtor testify that a house was sold if he doesn't know the date and there is no record of it being sold? The same is true of a car or anything else. to whit...

Why didn't the DA dig in his heels and say, "If you can't tell me when it was sold to the public, then it might never have been sold to the public. The only thing your records tell you for sure is that it was manufactured and sold to police agencies only, correct sir?"

And if he has no documentation indicating anything other than the ammunition was sold to police only, then that's as far as he should have been allowed to testify. Without records indicating its public sale, his belief is an assumption, no better than hearsay.

Why was this not contested?

Diane said...

I'd "guess" maybe he/prosecution didn't want to get argumentative w/his own witness. What he should do is bring on another witness to clarify.

Sprocket said...

DDA Presby acting career
I don't know if LaLama has spoken to DDA Presby about this.

Latent & Patent Prints
There were prints recovered. A few prints have yet to be identified and a few prints were unusable as identification.

There has been a stipulation between the parties that Stephanie Lazarus' prints were not found at the scene. The still unidentified prints are not hers.

The Condo
From my understanding of the testimony, when Ruetten and Rasmussen got engaged, Nels, transferred ownership to the couple. They in turn, took out a loan to pay Nels for the condo. They owned it via a mortgage. There was no life insurance policy on Rasmussen's life. When Rasmussen was murdered, Ruetten never went back to live in the condo. He couldn't. He stayed with his parents for a short time then went to live with his older sister in Northern California while he recovered from the loss.

Ruetten sold the condo, I believe in September 1986. His total profit from the sale was $10,000.00.

Hope that clears up the defense questions and the prosecution's redirect of Ruetten.

The bullets.
From my understanding of the testimony, the bullets were sold between the late 70's and 1991. During that sale period, at one time they were only private sale and at some point they became available to the public. The Sales Rep for Federal could not pinpoint the date the bullets became available to the general public.

Overland and Presby went back and forth on redirect and recross, whether or not the company SPEER made a 38 125 grain that had a similar "hoof shape" jacket crimp.

It was the expert's opinion that these jacket crimps are unique to manufacturer. Overland brought out on cross that since the expert did not look at records from SPEER for the period of 1978 to 1986, he can't be certain.

Robert said...

From your fine reporting I noted that Overland once again got away with a sleight of hand regarding Speer. If the Federal .38 125 grain bullet was made on the type 21 machine its features are unique as a fingerprint. That machine is/was unique to Federal and the bullets found in Sherri were positively identified as being Federal ammunition.

If the DA objected to Overland indicating this might have been a Speer bullet was his objection sustained? After all Overland had not produced a Speer bullet, nor any evidence that Speer bullets had a similar crimp on them, nor any evidence that Speer bullets were being sold to the LAPD as standard issue or to the public in Los Angeles.... as a matter of fact, all evidence is/was to the contrary.

Was that the DA's objection, and if so, why did the judge allow Overland to question the firearms experts positive ID when Overland had nothing of substance to present to the court, no impeachment of credentials, no pictures of Speer bullets, no history of manufacture on a type 21 machine etc etc...and no contrary witness doubting the Federal identification?

I guess I'm curious as to how the judge reacted to that back and forth re, the bullet identification.

Sprocket said...

There was no problem if I remember correctly, to the redirect and recross. They were all proper questions.

I believe (but am not positive) that Overland has his own firearm expert that will testify in his case.

We still might have an LAPD ballistics expert testify. We are currently on witness #43 with Detective Jaramillo. We've been told there will be between 60 to 70 witnesses at trial.

Kathy said...

Thank you for capturing so much interesting detail.

Rest your hands this weekend and enjoy some down time.

One of my job responsibilities at work is to document statements while investigtors are conducting investigative interviews. The investigations can be everything from harrassment to alleged theft to scientific fraud. I try and capture the individual's voice using their words. It can be a challenge.

Thankfully, I use a computer and sit in a comfortable chair while keying in the statements. Some interviews last four to five hours without a break.

I know how exhausting what you do can be. Your willingness to take down as much as you can by hand is amazing.

Thank you again for being our presence in the courtroom. Look forward to Tuesday.

Annette said...

I appreciate you keeping those of us who can't be at the trial updated on it.

As I have never followed a "Blog" before, what does "(snip)" indicate? You mentioned Connie being present, then that you mis-identified someone else as Connie. Has Connie been present for any of the trial?

Keep up the good work.