Monday, March 5, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Closing Arguments


2-17-2012 Prosecution witness Donald Barona, former sales manager for LA Police Revolver & Athletic Club, DDA Shannon Presby, Judge Robert J. Perry © Thomas Broersma

Closing arguments are set to begin at 9:00 AM today in the Stephanie Lazarus murder trial. Lazarus is facing a possible life sentence for the death of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, the new wife of her ex-lover, John Ruetten.

DDA Paul Nunez will present first. Nunez is expected to argue less than two hours about the scientific evidence that the prosecution feels proves Lazarus is guilty; specifically the DNA bite mark evidence that was stored in the the LA County Coroner's freezers for nineteen years. The DNA profile from that evidence was compared to Lazarus four years later when the cold case file was reexamined by homicide detectives at the LAPD Van Nuys Division. Stephanie Lazarus' name was found in the case file.

Next, defense attorney Mark Overland is expected to argue anywhere from four to five hours that the DNA evidence is not valid or cannot be relied upon because of the condition the envelope was found in, supposedly unreliable documentation procedures and possible contamination of the evidence. It is expected Overland will also argue that the bullets and weapon that killed Rasmussen could not be positively linked to his client; that Lazarus was not obsessed with Ruetten as the prosecution contends but that she was dating other men during that time period.

The final argument will be presented by DDA Shannon Presby, who is expected to argue one hour about the other circumstantial evidence the prosecution feels links Lazarus to the murder.

The number of hours of closing arguments is expected to take until mid day Tuesday to present to the jury. Afterwards, Judge Perry will read jury instructions and they will get the case to deliberate.

I will have an update on the closings when court breaks for lunch.

UPDATE 12:40 PM:
DDA Nunez spoke for about an hour, eloquently outlining their evidence and explaining in detail how it proves the defendant committed the murder.

Nunez started off by talking about the happy moments John Ruetten and Sherri Rasmussen shared in the months leading up to the murder. A marriage, a new niece and another sister with a new baby on the way.

However, the months preceding the murder were quite different for Stephanie Lazarus. Her roommate Mike Hargreaves saw the grief that she was feeling. In her journal she wrote how her concentration was lost. She tried to reach out to John, but that didn't help; he was going forward with the marriage. She wrote a letter to John's mother, telling her that she truly loved John, and that she will never understand John's decision. This grief, mixed with her skills as a police officer, her days off, was the perfect mix, the perfect cocktail... Stephanie Lazarus was waiting for the moment to strike, waiting for the victim to be alone.

Nunez then went over what Rasmussen experienced in the moments before she was killed. She was bound, she was bitten, she was hit on he head with a vase, she was pistol whipped. And when Sherri was lying there on the ground, the defendant knew what she was about to do. She wrapped the blanket around the gun to muffle the sound. She fired once, fired twice, then moved in closer and fired a contact shot (right up against Sherri's skin).

Nunez argued that the reason this crime occurred was jealousy. Simply put, the jealousy the defendant had for the victim existed because Lazarus loved John. There's no evidence that anyone else had the motive to kill Sherri Rasmussen.

Nunez presented various clips from the police interview to argue that Lazarus lied to the detectives in that interview and was trying to deflect detectives from the fact that she had a motive to kill Sherri.

The DNA evidence as well as the rest of the circumstantial evidence was also argued that it supported their theory that Lazarus committed this crime. The DNA left at the scene. The fact that Lazarus had the opportunity. She had three days off before the murder. Three days to plan, three days to stalk, three days to strike.

The Federal bullets that match the type of ammunition that LAPD officers were required to use in their duty and off-duty weapons. Her stolen weapon 13 days later, that was not reported to LAPD. The five bullets fired at the scene and the bullets that had tool marks indicating they were fired from a weapon creating tool marks with 5 lands and groves and a right twist, and the fact that her lost weapon was a five shot that would exhibit the same characteristics on bullets.

For the first 40 minutes of Overland's closing argument, he spoke to the jurors about jury instructions and the laws they must follow when coming to a decision.

Overland then went on to point out inconsistencies in the prosecution's evidence. Overland spoke about what the DNA did and did not prove, as well as what the original investigators concluded in the case.

Overland argued that the jury should not believe the detectives who investigated the case in 2009 because they can lie. He showed examples of the detectives lying to Lazarus and trying to trap her into saying something incriminating in the video interview.

I'll have much more on closing arguments when I write up my detail notes late tonight.


Starbright said...


Thanks for all your hard work. Eagerly awaiting closing arguments...


Utah Chris said...

Good work Sprocket - I'm on pins and needles here waiting to hear the major points from both sides.

I wish I could offer to treat you to lunch.

BusyWife said...

Sprocket, you say that the defendant faces life in prison. Can you explain the sentencing possibilities? I.e. if the defendant is found guilty, will the judge have discretion, or is there a mandatory life sentence if she is found guilty? Also, b/c the crime was committed with a gun, would that affect the sentence? Finally, I think you said this before, but please confirm that the only thing to be decided is first degree murder, right?

Anonymous said...

Please let us know how full the courtroom was today and whether there was a lottery for seats. Thanks!

Shannon from Seattle said...

Your reports have been nothing short of amazing. Like all of your T&T fans, I am awaiting word on the closing arguments.

Have a great day in court.

Anonymous said...

FINALLY the major media is reporting today... Cant wait for our girl's update!

Anonymous said...

KFI 640 is reporting in its headline DA SEEKS DEATH FOR KILLER COP. What misrepresentation! Also... do you think Nunez did a good job?

Robert said...

The DNA proves one central fact for which the defense has no answer. It proves where Stephanie Lazarus was on the day of the murder.

If the defense can show the jury a single item of evidence proving she was somewhere else, they should step up to the bar. If she made an appointment with her dentist or her doctor, bought a dress at the mall or purchased a ticket to a matinee, took her car to the dealer or picked up her dry-cleaning at the time of the murder, then trump the prosecution with that affirmative information.

We all know that is wishful thinking because she was in unit #205 at the time of the murder. Overland's arguments are nothing but smoke and mirrors, lawyers tricks designed to deflect the attention of the jurors from that central fact. DNA places Lazarus at the scene and not one piece of evidence suggests she was somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Closing arguments are all-important in a trial like this. The prosecution has to bring all of the evidence together and make it clear to the jury.

David In TN

Anonymous said...

I have been following this case, with great interest since the news of SL's arrest was reported. Something about this case captured me. Perhaps because SL and I are of similar age, backgrounds and I too have worked in law enforcement. On the surface, we are similar.

I carefully went over all the evidence and did not allow myself to come to any conclusions until all of the evidence and testimony was detailed in court. This past weekend I came to the undeniable conclusion that SL murdered Sherri. I really wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Someone earlier on wrote that the ramifications in SL's life, with a conviction now, are much greater than they would have been 26 years ago. I completely agree. Since adoption is such a mind full process, she must have thought that she was home free, otherwise I can not imagine her bringing a daughter into this. A daughter who already did not have a mother. I can not fathom what it would be like to sit there every day listening to the details of this awful murder, with prosecutors pointing at you, and your mother and husband and brother sitting and listening. I think if she is found guilty that this is a fall of epic proportions. It is so true that not only does the individual go to prison, but also all of the family and loved ones, their lives are forever changed.

What I find most startling about this case is how senseless it was. Sherri was a young, intelligent, hard working woman who had so much ahead of her and to have her life taken away all because she fell in love and married the wrong person. It's difficult to imagine the level of hatred and selfishness that SL must have felt to somehow believe that she was justified to murder.

At times when I feel that I am being wronged, I take a deep breath and remind myself that karma will come back to my offender; this case brings that concept to a whole new level.

Shannon from Seattle said...

I don't know about you guys, but I am sticking with Sprocket (the A team) on the trial coverage. Sure, the mainstream media swoops in at the end of the trial out of the phone booth with a blue cape. I don't think so! Sprocket is the best!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Sprocket!

Did the prosecution remind the jury that in addition to the DNA in the bite wound that linked Lazarus to the crime, DNA associated with the broken fingernails also proved to be hers? I hope so!! Please let us know! Until then, keep up the great work!! YOU ARE AMAZING!!

Anonymous said...

If this jury finds Stephanie Lazarus innocent after all of that evidence, the strongest of which is the DNA, I will officially lose hope in the American educational system. The Casey Anthony verdict is proof that we must continue to invest in educating our citizens or we, as a country, are in big, big trouble.

Anonymous said...

Sprocket, your the bomb. I am an astrologer, is there any way you could find the birthdate of Stephanie, of course the best would be time and place, but the date would be awesome!

Sprocket said...

I'm finally home and in my jammies. I will answer the questions above, and then get straight to writing. I may not publish anything until past midnight tonight.

Sentence, if a guilty verdict
I will direct everyone to the California Evidence Code 187. Google that and read it carefully. There are additional years added for using a gun.

I have only read one newspaper report, in the Times, that mentioned what she is facing. The article was (I believe) over a year old. I don't know how accurate it is. It said, that Lazarus was facing "27 years to life."

If that report is correct, what that means is, she must serve 27 years before she will be eligible for her FIRST parole hearing. So, she is facing the "possibility" of life, see? Not necessarily life without the possibility of parole.

Nunez Argument
Nunez did a good job of presenting their arguments. There was only one occasion where he faltered and had to start over. He did seem just a tad nervous.

The Courtroom
It was packed. I do not know how the public lottery was conducted how how they chose people. I do know that some people who came quite often did get seats. DDA Presby's parents were in the gallery, along with John Ruetten, his sister Gayle Lopes, Sherri's sister Connie, Connie's daughter (who was there on opening statements), Sherri's former roommate Jayne, and I believe, a few other friends of the family.

The rest of the prosecution's arguments
Will be in my detailed notes.

Lazarus' birthday
The LA County Sheriff's web site, that has information on all innmates has her birthday as May 4th, 1960. I have no proof that she was born or grew up in the San Fernando Valley.

Anonymous said...

This case is SO SLAM DUNK GUILTY! It's a shame that we even have to worry about the verdict!!

debbiescalisi said...

Robert's comments on 3/5 at 1:47pm, have again as in his previous comments, hit the nail right on the head. I am sure Mark Overland has done the best job possible to defend his client, but I have this uneasy feeling about acquittal after the recent Casey Anthony trial. I am hoping the jury in California is more sophisticated than the jury in Florida. Anonymous on 3/5 at 2:16pm said it all to perfection: this is about the families involved too and the ramifications are huge to them. SL did think she was home free after all these years, not even being interviewed ONCE back in 1986 after the murder. I am also wondering if any behind-the-scene deals are being offered to SL at the last minute before the jury goes to deliberate. Not that I think SL would take them at this stage of the game. She must not believe in Karma.

Crickit said...

Thank you Sprocket for your willingness to cover this trial on your blog without being paid! We are all so very thankful for your coverage.

I can't wait to read your notes from today's closing arguments.

Thanks again! :)

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that you did not report on Nunez's misconduct, yelling at Nuttall and telling him to clean up his testimony. How Nuttall was changing his testimony until Overland called him on it, and how honest Nuttall was about admitting the misconduct of Nunez.

Anonymous said...

Sprocket - thank you for this labor of love in covering this trial! Hope you get some rest when it is over. 2 questions
#1. Is there any way to keep informed on the jury progress while they are deliberating? Are there Twitter updates so that we will know when the verdict is reached?
#2. Will a sentencing date be announced at the verdict?
(IF she is found guilty)
Thanks again! Darlene

Anonymous said...

The fact that this case will soon be in the Jury's hands so quickly after the prosecution rested is just a big surprise. I have done more reading since I stumbled on the Trials and Tribulations website! Sprocket, I appreciate your reporting; Mr. Sprocket, thank you for supporting your wife's passion.

I graduated from UCLA School of Nursing the year after Sherri did. According to what I have read, she graduated with a Master's Degree at age 20. Among UCLA grads, Sherri was regarded as being among 60 of the most impressive contributors to the Nursing profession. The list is impressive and includes a group of very distinguished Nursing leaders, some of which I currently work with; an awesome group of highly regarded professionals. Sherri had to be exceptional at such a young age to be part of this group. What a awful lost!

As a nurse in a large medical center, I've always had an interested in how scientific advances are applied to save lives. Also of interest is how the use of computers in analyzing, collecting and searching databases has helped this effort tremendously. In this case, science and automation helped to identify SL after a quarter of a century has passed. Another shocker, particularly aince SL "assassinated" Sherri so long ago.

My neighbor, who was always so very quite and distant was one of the cold case detectives that worked on this case. His talents and contributions unknow to most of us in the area. Apparently, this gentle man that lived among us has helped solve a number of cold case crimes. What a guy!

So, do we ever really know who stands or lives close to us? The person could be a very talented and gifted professional like Sherri, an exceptional detective or a murderer. How do we determine who is a good person and who isn't?

Anyway, Sproket, your coverage has been exceptional. You made me think about this case and think about things that are important in life. Definitely, honesty and respect of the lives we cherish.

Really, with much appreciation ..... !!!!