Sunday, March 4, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Day 8, Part II

Per the request of T&T readers, I’m transcribing my detail notes on the testimony of John Ruetten, which continued into Day 8 of the trial. This is the last portion of Ruetten's testimony. Sprocket

UPDATE: 6/6/19: edited for spelling
February 16th, 2012
Nunez and Presby come over to say hello to Sherri’s family and friends. I see a juror bring in a pink bakery box. Outside in the hallway, I chatted up Pat LaLama and her husband Anthony about how I got interested in the criminal justice system. Anthony tells me when he was eleven-years-old, he used to skip school and come down to the Criminal Court Building to watch trials.

Inside Department 104, the Overland’s are not here yet. At 8:35 AM, Overland enters by himself. Juror #9 is missing. The sheriff’s have gone down to look for him. I note the courtroom is very empty today. The juror finally arrives and the bailiff reminds everyone to turn off your cell phones, and I quickly grab my bag to hunt for my phone.

There’s quite a turnout from the MSM for Ruetten’s testimony but the courtroom at this time is still a little over half full. I note all the family who are here: Nels, John Taylor, Teresa, Loretta. There are at least five or six of Lazarus’ family here.

DDA Deborah Brazil is here in the back row. Someone tells me they saw her come on another day also.

8:50 AM Judge Perry takes the bench. He reminds jurors about being on time.

JOHN RUETTEN, continued

MO: In February 1986, (were you?) working at a company Micropolis, at 2113 (?) Nordoff?

JR: I don’t know the number, but I believe it was on Nordoff.

MO: It took you about 20 minutes to get to work?

JR: Yes.

MO: You dropped off dry cleaning. Where was the cleaners?

JR: Not sure.

MO: When you got to work, were you worried at all about Ms. Rasmussen’s health?

JR: No.

MO: How many times did you call?

JR: At least two at home.

An interview transcript dated February 24th.

I’m not sure who says something, but I have a comment here, that I don’t know who said it, possibly Judge Perry.

“I wish you wouldn’t comment like that in front of the jury.”

JR: I knew she wasn’t wanting to go do that People’s (Differences?) lecture.

A photo of the phone machine is shown to the witness.

JR: I don’t recall ever getting the answering machine.

MO: Wasn’t the answering machine turned off?

Question after question after question about the answering machine. I’m quite puzzled by this line of questioning. Judge Perry’s body language does not appear positive.

JP: Is there a question pending?

MO: Not yet.

Judge Perry appears to watch the clock.

There’s a question about going to the bank, which bank he went to, which branch address, another question about the bank.

MO: Did you go home, to check to see what was going on?

JR: No.

MO: How long were you gone (to the bank)?

JR: It wouldn’t have been more than 20 minutes.

Judge Perry appears to squint.

JP: I think we’ve heard this before. (questions about he couldn’t reach her at work)

Overland asks Ruetten again, “You weren’t worried?”

Ruetten states he doesn’t remember where the UPS was located where he picked up the pair of shoes. He got home around 6:00 PM.

MO: Was that 6:10 PM?

JR: I think I just answered that.

MO: Was it ten till’? Was it?

I believe it’s Judge Perry who asks for the sidebar. Juror #9 appears to make faces.

(I speculate on the cross. Is this to somehow discredit Ruetten or try to put him under the spotlight?) Defense exhibit JJJ is put up. It’s a Google Map with outlines of a connected route from the condo, to the cleaners, to Ruetten’s office on Nordoff, to UPS and then back to the condo. I do a little sketch in my notebook of what’s on the overhead screen.

MO: Can you point out the route you took to work?

JR: I have no memory of the route (to work).

MO: How about the route you came home?

JR: I have no memory of the route.

Ruetten remembers closing the garage door that morning. When he came home and saw the garage door open and the glass, Ruetten states, “My first thought was, ‘Did she hit the garage door?’ A few weeks before, she had clipped the antenna.

MO: You saw the glass?

JR: When I first saw the car gone, my first thought was related to the car.

MO: (Did you) bring your dry cleaning in?

JR: I don’t think so. I’m not sure.

Another question about bringing in the dry cleaning and where he put it.

JR: I have no independent memory.

I watch Judge Perry. He’s leaning forward, his hand over his mouth. Now he’s leaning on his left fist.

Overland shows him a photo of dry cleaning lying over the sofa love seat.

JR: I have no independent memory of placing it there or anywhere.

There’s a question about the stereo, and if it was the only expensive item in the house.

Objection! Vague! Sustained!

MO: You were asked about the cost of items...?

JR: I’m having trouble thinking of items that were more valuable.

Ruetten’s recollection is, there was no (valuable) jewelry in the house.

MO: It was you that opened the door for paramedics?

JR: I believe I answered that. I did not know who came first.

MO: When you opened (the door from the garage) there was no one inside, including paramedics?
JR: That’s correct.

Overland now asks a question about who he told when they became engaged.

JR: At that time (it was) between the two of us. We did tell (my?) brother that weekend we were getting engaged. (snip) We told (our?) parents on Memorial Day weekend in San Diego.

MO: And that was May 27th, 1985?

JR: I don’t recall the date.

Overland is asking the court to take judicial notice of that fact.

Overland puts up a photo of the cord and speaker wire found in the entrance way of the home.

MO: Did you touch those items?

JR: Not that I recall.

Judge Perry interjects.

JP: Had you seen that rope prior to that date?

JR: Not that I recall.

MO: What about the speaker wire?

JR: I probably saw when I was setting up the stereo. (snip) The speaker wasn’t my life.

MO: Do you remember touching the speaker wire on February 24th?

JR: No.

Now Overland asks questions about the engagement.

MO: How long after (you became) engaged, (you) formally announced, did you move in?

JR: I think I said yesterday, between 30 to 60 days.

MO: Was that after (the) public announcement?

JR: I don’t know the date. I know it was soon after.

Overland has him read another transcript.

JR: I’m sure that’s accurate.

MO: And that would be in June 1985? (snip) It says here, beginning of June?

JR: I don’t have a recollection (of) beginning of June.

MO: Before you moved in, did you have any arguments with your wife?

JR: Not that I recall.

Overland now asks him about a trip to Mammoth, in January 1986, and another trip to Tahoe, the day after Christmas.

MO: Do you remember going on a ski trip, turning around and coming back?

JR: No.

MO: Do you recall if you ( and Sherri) ever had an argument on a trip out of town and just came back?

JR: No. I can’t recall that happened.

MO: You did have an argument though, with your wife before married, when you had gone to see Stephanie Lazarus?

JR: I wouldn’t characterize it as an argument.

MO: A discussion?

JR: Yes.

MO: You testified about that (ent?)?

JR: Yes.

Ruetten states this was before he moved in with Rasmussen.

MO: Do you remember what month it was? (the call from Lazarus)

JR: All I remember is I got the call at the Roscoe apartment.

MO: Did you tell your wife and tell her that Stephanie Lazarus wanted you to come over?

JR: I don’t recall that I did that.

MO: When you went over there, was she sobbing and out of control?

JR: I had never seen her that upset before.

Overland refers Ruetten to his prior statement.

MO: Did you say there, that she wasn’t sobbing or out of control?

JR: That’s what it says.

MO: Was she angry?

JR: I don’t recall her being angry.

Ruetten thinks he was at Lazarus’ condo about 60 to 90 minutes. That’s his best guess.

MO: In any of your prior interviews, did you ever tell any of the investigators tat she was the one who requested sex?

JR: I believe I must have.

Three jurors have their arms crossed. I don’t see many jurors taking notes at the moment. Ruetten appears to be getting frustrated with the cross examination. Nunez fidgets, rolling and flipping his pen between his fingers.
Overland reads back his statement from a prior interview.

MO: “I think we may have had sex.” That’s not the same as she requested sex.

Nunez appears to be making faces at Overland’s questions.

MO: Before you left, did you take a shower?

JR: I don’t recall that.

MO: Do you remember going to Fuddruckers and finding some kind of note on your car from Ms. Lazarus?

JR: No.

MO: Did you tell your fiancee you just had sex with Ms. Lazarus?

JR: No.

MO: When did you find out your fiancee knew?

JR: It happened some time later.

Another question about whether or not Rasmussen was angry.

JR: She was upset. I don’t remember her angry. (snip) I was groveling, begging to not let this relationship go.

There are a few more questions about what that conversation was like.

MO: You were concerned that.....

JR: The engagement was never called off at any time. (snip) I don’t recall her ever saying those words, “breaking off the engagement.”

Overland asks if the issue was ever brought up again.

JR: I don’t remember.

MO: Did Stephanie Lazarus ever pursue you?

JR: I don’t believe so.

There are questions about how they came to be together again, after 1989.

JR: I think years later, I was going through LA and gave her a call.

MO: The Hawaii trip? 1989?

JR: That’s my recollection.

He went there on the invitation of friends.

MO: The reason you went there was you found out Lazarus was going to be there?

(I miss that answer.)

JR: I don’t remember how I found out. (Lazarus was going to be in Hawaii.)

Overland asks about when he told Lazarus in Hawaii that he gave her name to police.

MO: Did she say, “Oh my God! Why did you do that?

JR: No.

MO: It didn’t seem to phase her at all?

JR: Correct.

MO: Did she seem upset?

JR? No.

Ruetten’s recollection is he called her at her condo when he was passing through LA and that was before the Hawaii trip. He doesn’t remember if he got a hold of her. He doesn’t remember any other calls.

MO: Do you remember a call to her and she made a statement about her boyfriend?

JR: I don’t recall that.

The morning break is called. Overland wants to introduce a portion of a video tape of John Ruetten in a police interview room. DDA Presby disagrees with the defense’s transcript of the interview on June 4, 2009. The video is a conversation that Ruetten is having on the phone with his current wife. He makes a statement thanking God that he is no longer a suspect. Judge Perry asks to see it. It’s very short, and the audio, I can’t hear it at all.

JP: I don’t think it’s relevant. I’ll sustain the objection.

I get to take a break and stretch. Two T&T readers stop by to say hello.

At 10:10 AM Overland indicates his cross is finished.

Presby gets up and delivers is redirect in a very commanding, wake up the room tone.

SP: Mr. Ruetten, after your wife was killed, did you get back the BMW?

The BMW was returned in a matter of about two weeks or more.

SP: Was it damaged?

JR: No.

SP: Ws it stripped?

JR: No. (snip) As far as I can tell....

There’s a question about the transfer of the condo.

SP: After you got married, Ms. Rasmussen’s father, Nels, deeded the condo to (you)? (snip)

Ruetten and Rasmussen obtained a loan for the condo.

SP: Did the money from that loan go to Nels? (snip) You bought the condo from Nels?

The bank loan he obtained paid Nels for the condo. When he sold the condo, he had to pay off the loan for the condo. I believe Presby asks him how much profit he made off the sale of the condo. If my memory serves, I believe Ruetten states the profit was $10,000.00

In a loud, accusatory tone Presby asks Ruetten:

SP: Mr. Ruetten! Did you kill your wife because you wanted her condo!!!

JR: That’s ridiculous. No.

He’s asked about a section of a prior transcript where he indicated he tried to call Sherri four or five times.

SP: Did that include both calls to home, work?

JR: It could have.

SP: Your best memory: how many times did you call home?

JR: Two to three times.

Presby goes over his statement that there was no “real”jewelry. I believe Presby asks if “real” meant, more valuable. Ruetten verifies that Rasmussen did have a jewelry box and she had jewelry that she wore to work.

Redirect ends and Overland recrosses the witness.

MO: Did you tell Mr. Presby you got deeded the condo “after married”?

JR: It was per dates shown yesterday on the document.

Overland’s recross ends and Presby redirects again.

SP: It was after you got engaged to (Sherri) that the condo was deeded?

JR: Yes.

The witness is finished.

Please leave any comments on the Q & A III entry. Thank you! Sprocket.