Friday, March 2, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Trial: Q & A III

UPDATED! Edited for accuracy, clarity.

Here is your opportunity to vote your opinion as to whether or not the prosecution met it's burden of "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" or if they did not meet their burden.

If you have a question about witness testimony, Judge Perry's rulings or anything else about the case, I will try to answer. You can also share your opinion as to what you believe the evidence proves.

If you plan on trying to get one of the public seats at trial, I recommend getting there at least by 8:30 AM for a 9:00 AM start time.



Question from Nancy B:
I have to say that even though many of Judge Perry's decisions have restricted the public's ability to have access to information that was presented in court...(snip)
Judge Perry did not limit or restrict the public's ability to have access to information. He just doesn't like cameras in his courtroom. Anyone can enter any courtroom in the US and listen in on the proceedings. The mainstream media is there, covering the trial. Judge Perry can't control what they choose to write about.
Question from Kathy:
Sprocket, I really like Judge Perry. He seems to take great care in what line of questioning is allowed so as not to confuse the jury. Am I correct in thinking, that at this late time, Lazarus will not be taking the stand in her defense?
You are correct. When the defense rested, I was surprised that, outside the presence of the jury, Judge Perry did not get it on the record that Lazarus made the decision of her own free will not to take the stand (or what ever language Judge Perry would have used to ask her that question) in her own defense. After the defense rested, I immediately told one of the respected crime beat reporters in the room who was surprised also. It's my "guess" mind you, that Judge Perry may have felt that Lazarus had adequate counsel regarding this issue. Remember, at one time Overland supervised a staff of over 400 attorneys while in the Public Defender's Office.
Question from Anon on 3/1 7:55 PM:
WOW!!! When this case is over with, weather she is found guilty or not, we will never know the real truth. I was surprised that none of her former coworkers like her last partner would testify on her behalf. I understand that he is in complete denial. There were so few, you would think after 26 yrs, her friends on the force one of them would step forward. (snip)
It's my best bet that Judge Perry would not have allowed the defense to present character witness after character witness after character witness after character witness. There has been a suggestion by the defense, that an individual identified as the godmother to Lazarus' daughter, Ann Young (possibility related to husband Scott Young) was unwilling to meet with the defense investigator unless certain conditions were met and that those conditions were set by her superiors at LAPD.
Question from Anon on 3/1 8:24 PM:
1. Thank you for your continuing exhaustive detail of the trial, it's much better than TV or being there. 2. Thanks also to the gifted Mr. Broersma for his fine sketches. Request that he sketch you for posting, call a vote of the readers if necessary. 3. How was entrance to the condo achieved, unlocked door or lock picking?
1. You're welcome. 2. I'm sorry. There will be no sketches of me. I'm a shy person and I've already had my image illegally taken on the 9th floor of the courthouse, by Phil Spector's trial bride wife, drastically photo-shopped and then published up on the web. That experience will last me a life time. 3. How the killer gained entrance to the condo remains unknown. The prosecution contends the defendant used lock-picking tools. The defense contends the front door could have been left unlocked.
Question from Anon 3/1 10:58 PM:
Sprocket, could you please go over the charges. are there lesser included? or just the one big charge?
187 Murder in the first degree. With the circumstances of this case, I do not see how Judge Perry could add the option for second degree or voluntary/involuntary manslaughter. There is also a gun enhancement charge. I have only been able to find one newspaper article from the LA Times, well over a year ago that stated the number of years she would be facing was 27 years to life. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of what the LA Times reported back then. In California, when they say 27 years to life, that means the convicted individual would have to serve at least 27 years before they are eligible for parole. If there are legal eagles out there reading who know differently, please chime in.
Question from Anon 3/2 8:38 AM:
Greatly appreciate your coverage of this trial! Has the defense indicated a direct reason and method the bite DNA tested could be the same as SL if she was not the person who actually made he bite?
This is an excellent question. The defense has inferred through cross examination of prosecution witnesses that since the bite mark swab envelope took time to find by the Coroner's Office staff and the fact that it had a hole in it when found, the evidence could be contaminated or unreliable. The defense did not present witnesses to answer your question, nor, in my opinion, was that question answered in cross examination of any prosecution witness.
Question from Anon 3/2 11:29 AM:
There is one issue about the BMW that puzzles me. With such a bloody struggle, shouldn't there have been blood on the seat? Yet I didn't read or see anything that indicated the BMW was in anything but pristine condition.
There was biological evidence collected from the car. From two spots on the inside of the driver's side door, the keys (that were found in the ignition) and a hair from the center console. The car itself was in pristine condition. It was not stripped or damaged in any way.
Question from Anon 3/2 12:33 PM
Though you addressed something of that, can I take it that Nunez brought out that those prints not identified were smudges. Which would indicate to me that though they couldn't be definitely matched to Lazarus, it doesn't necessarily mean they weren't hers. Or Sherri Ramussen's or even John Rutten's. Hope you continue to report on trials. maybe a paid position. Something to supplement Mr. Sprocket's car repair!
I called them smudges, Nunez did not. The latent print analyst stated the material was not enough of a pattern to identify for comparison, ergo, it was classified as unidentifiable. That was clear on direct testimony. Nunez only asked a couple questions on cross. It would be a dream come true to be able to earn a living at this type of reporting, that I feel provides a great service to the community. Keep sending those positive vibes out to the universe for me that the perfect opportunity comes my way.
Question from Natalie:
I also have a question about the BMW. I think I recall that it was found a few days after the murder, nearby Sherri's condo. Do they believe the car was immediately left there, or was it stolen, and left a few days later? This may answer Anon's question above regarding the blood. Thanks, Sprocket. You rock.
The car was found On March 7th, 1986 around 8 or 8:30 PM, 2.5 miles almost directly east of the Van Nuys town home. The vehicle was not in the garage when John Ruetten arrived home and discovered his wife's body in the living room. The prosecution's theory is, the killer left the crime scene in the vehicle. The officer who found the vehicle could not remember if it was locked or not.
Question from Darlene:
Yes, thank you for making us feel like we have been there everyday! So , if I understand correctly, the bite mark DNA led to finding that a woman caused this and that led to the fingernail and bite mark DNA match? Wow!
Not quite exactly like that. Running the DNA determined that there was most likely a female killer. That information was discovered in 2005. Sometime in 2010, after Lazarus' arrest, the prosecution and defense agreed to send samples to an independent lab, SERI, to do more sophisticated testing. SERI tested the broken fingernails and came up with the DNA matches on those items to Lazarus.
Question from Anon 3/2 12:58 PM:
How do you decide which cases to report on? Why did you decide to report on the Stephanie Lazarus case. As always, many thanks.
First and foremost, where will the case be tried. Mr. Sprocket is supportive but I can't spend a lot of money on my trial coverage at this point. It's why I bring my lunch and take public transportation. I currently have limited resources to spend on this labor of love so I can't cover a lengthy trial that will be held in an outlying courthouse where I might have to pay for parking and have a lengthy drive. I prefer cases that are tried on the 9th floor of the downtown criminal court building. I'm familiar with several of the judges on that floor.

Second, the case needs to be a murder case or a compelling case involving a child or children.

Third, hopefully there is something unusual about the evidence or story. A mystery, if you will.

Fourth, if there are no cameras, that's a plus since I'm not competing with an online or TV watching audience.

Cases I have my eye on. Cameron Brown third retrial scheduled for later this summer in Department 107, Judge Pastor's courtroom, where Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Kelly Soo Park, (female defendant; female victim; DNA match) Lonnie Franklin, Jr., (serial killer solved by familial DNA) both in Department 109, Judge Kathleen Kennedy.
If convicted, where will Lazarus end up?
One strong possibility is Frontera, where the Manson girls ended up. It's my understanding the housing is in small groups verses the individual cells at Chowchilla.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sprocket. I guess my question should have been - was there every any question about the security of the fingernail evidence? Has the defense tried to explain it? Thanks and sorry if I missed this in your reporting! Darlene

Anonymous said...

Please clarify this for me. In addition to the DNA match with the saliva recovered from the bite mark, did the prosecution present evidence of a DNA match with SL from fingernail remains found at the crime scent? If so, how did the defense explain this? If so, were the fingernail clipping properly stored or could they also been tampered with? A doble DNA match? Wow. Hard to argue against!! Plase clarify. Thank you!!!!

Sprocket said...

I would have to say, no.

Overland spent quite a bit of time focusing on the fact that there were other items of evidence that indicated DNA from more than two persons (alleles found at a single loci) as well as male DNA that could not have come from John Ruetten.

Off the top of my head (without going back to my detail notes and finding the exact items) those items would be the fingernail clippings taken of the intact nails from Rasmussen's body, the swatch cuttings from the multi-colored blanket/garment/snuggy and I believe, but am not positive, the hair found in the vehicle.

Robert said...

If I understand you correctly, the DNA found in the bite mark was run and it first of all indicated a female assailant. When more complex DNA results came in, they had a complete profile and started comparing that profile to all women in Sherri's life and/or mentioned in the original murder book. The last woman whose DNA was collected and compared was Stephanie Lazarus. The DNA was a positive hit with a chance of error of something like 1 in 400 quadrillion.

I was not aware the defense and prosecution had sent out Sherri's fingernails and received another hit. If I am reading your answers correctly, they got another hit or hits from Sherri's fingernails. Is that correct? They have Lazarus' DNA on at least two separate items that came out of an independent test agreed to by the prosecution and the defense?

Lastly, did they photograph the bite mark then do a computerized enhancement of the assailant's mouth, then refer that enhancement to Lazarus' dentist at the time? Or did they compare the bite mark to her current dental structure? With so much DNA found in the bite, that would probably be overkill, but I was curious if that had been done?

As always, you provide a valuable service to the community with your even-handed reporting of the facts. I happen to like your segues into descriptions of clothing and demeanor, it ads color and often allows the reader some insight into personalities. The only difference in your coverage versus MSM coverage is they are getting paid while you are doing it on a shoestring.

TS said...

I called the Public Information Office at the courthouse inquiring about public seating on Monday. They advised to be there by 8:00 a.m. for a random lottery drawing.

NancyB said...

I have a few questions and comments:
1. I am at a total loss to understand Overland's rationale for calling Detective Stearn as a witness. What purpose in advancing his theory of the case did it serve, for him to have Stearn read entries from SL's "work log"/journal? That she met some men and had some bike rides & lunch dates...that she shot a 382 and was classified as an expert marksmen--so what? I must be missing something entirely because it was not effective in any way to offset the facts that the prosecution has presented. Did you view this testimony as helpful to her defense?

2. I also can not figure out why Overland was so interested in getting information in front of the jury about a leg injury that occurred two years after the murder. Do you?

3. In the event that you find the time, even if it’s after the verdict is read, I’m requesting that you transcribe your detailed notes from John Ruetten’s testimony. I’m very interested in reading that. Thanks in advance if you can carve out time to do it.

4. Sprocket, I must be confused. I thought that information on the jurors could not be released to the public until it's released by Judge Perry. That's what I meant when I said that he's withheld some information from the public. You responded to an earlier question of mine on Feb. 9th with the following response: "From my understanding, the Public Information Office (PIO) PIO has not received information from Judge Perry's clerk that juror questionnaires or evidence documents have been released yet.

When the PIO get's notice from Melody, then the press can get copies. Not until then. I'll ask again tomorrow."

5. I love the Ca. Evidence Code Section 352! Do you know if most states have a similar code? I have ultimate respect for Judge Perry who has so aptly applied it during this trial.

6. Lastly, I happened upon a blog from Spain that has many of your full blog articles posted on their blog with no link to you or attribution that it is all your copywrited work! I was very disturbed by this and consider this a serious injustice to you. To my way of thinking it is stealing. I don’t know if you are aware of this. Maybe you gave your permission but I doubt that to be the case as this person has your articles posted as if they wrote them. Word for word copying! I just wanted you to be aware. If you want more info/url’s let me know.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sprocket. I feel like I've attended every day of this trial. One more question. How big a lady is Stephanie Lazarus? We know Sheri was tall 5'10 or 6'0" (I've read both)slim and athletic. Since reading Tuesday's description of the struggle, I've wondered how fairly matched they were. She surely did fight for her life, poor girl. BJ

Sprocket said...

The odontologist was unable to compare the bite on the arm to plaster casts of Lazarus' dental impressions. There were several reasons for this that I will go into later today when I have more time. In the mean time, you can refer to Day 6 notes for what I felt were the important issues from her testimony.

I believe I could do one more day of the trail in detail notes before closing arguments on Monday. I am taking requests for which day of testimony y'all would like me to transcribe the detail notes for. Please leave a handle/name in your comment (even a made up one) and why you think that testimony is most important for y'all to know. What questions do you think that testimony would answer for you. I'll be back later today to answer more questions.

Susan said...

I am a little shocked over defense's slim (practically non-existent) rebuttal. I've followed your blog closely, but did I miss something(s) important that the judge disallowed from the defense? Something that Overland is saying to the family & himself, how the judge "gutted" his case by not allowing him to present? It just seems to me that the defense did nothing to introduce reasonable doubt to the jurors.

Related, have you seen anything in the courtroom/hallways that make you suspect the SL & her family/supporters are not happy (or are happy) with the defense case?

Susan said...

I also vote for Ruetten's testimony in detail notes.

THANKS Sprocket!

Anonymous said...

Great job, Sprocket! I feel as though I've sat in the front row of this trial every day. One more question. How big a lady is Stephanie Lazarus? We know Sheri was tall, 5'10" or 6'0" (I've read both)slim and athletic. How tall is Ms Lazarus? Tuesday's description of the sequence of the attack leaves you to imagine the struggle. She surely did fight for her life.

Sprocket said...


When the DNA was first analyzed in 2005, they had a mixture of two DNA profiles. One strong robust profile, one weak profile. The strong profile came back with 13 of the 13 loci/alleles tested, including the sex marker that was female. The weak profile, if I'm recalling correctly (IIRC), did not have all 13 loci/alleles show up.

That was the first test.

In late May 2009, the DNA from the discarded cup/straw was analyzed and compared to the bite mark. I believe it was 11 of 13 loci/alleles matched. It was enough of a match to initiate an arrest. In instances where they don't have a DNA sample coming from a known "body", they do not make percentage calculations. That's why on this initial comparison, there are no percentage numbers.

After Lazarus was arrested on June 5th, 2009, a buccal swab was taken from inside her mouth. That swab was analyzed and compared to the bite mark swab. That random chance came back to 1 in 402.1 quadrillion.

In 2010, several items of evidence were sent to an independent lab, SERI. This was agreed to by both parties. SERI received 37 pieces of evidence to test.

They used more sophisticated DNA techniques, "MiniFiler" that tests 9 different loci (of the now 15 loci that are the ones tested in commercial kits) that often do not yield strong responses on the standard commercial kits and/or if your original evidence sample to test is very small.

From the MiniFiler testing of the torn fingernails, you are comparing only 9 loci to Lazarus' DNA profile from June 5, 2009. It's that testing that came back with the 26,000 to one and 9,000 to one random chance match.

The bite mark.

They took plaster casts of the bite mark on the arm in 1986. IIRC, there were plaster casts made of Lazarus' bite from her teeth.

Teeth change over time. Your bite and the shape of our teeth change, from fillings, from wear, etc. So making a comparison of a bit in 1986 to teeth in 2009 would be difficult.

In addition, there were not enough distinguishing marks in the bite mark itself, to make a definite comparison.

IIRC, the odontologist Law, could not say with 100% certainty that the mark on Sherri's arm was a bite mark. She testified it was "consistent with" a bite mark.

Summer said...


My vote would be John Ruetten's testimony transcribed as well. Thank you so much for your detailed, extensive coverage of this case.

Sprocket said...

Nancy B,

Please e-mail me the URL, web address of the blog from Spain.

Detective Stearn testified about Lazarus' comments/thoughts/interest in other men other than John Ruetten from Lazarus' journal. He testified about that information without Lazarus having to take the stand. It's up to the jury to decide if this information is relevant to her defense. Overland thought it was.

Same with the information about her marksmanship. There were five shots fired at the scene. The killer shot Rasmussen three times. Lazarus was a top marksman. Overland must feel this is relevant or he would not have introduced it.

Juror information.
You are correct. I thought the juror questionnaires had been released since then; they may have. I don't know. I do not believe Judge Perry has released any evidence items yet.

The California Evidence Code is based on the US Federal Code. I'm still learning the California Code. I do not know about other states.

How tall was Lazarus?
The LA Co. Sheriff's booking information has Lazarus, at the time of her arrest at 5'7" and 145 pounds. To me, Lazarus does not look like 145 pounds now. She looks like 115 pounds or 120 pounds. That's just my personal, non-verified opinion. Her face is much, much thinner than the interview video.

Judge Perry did rule on several things that Overland wanted to introduce to the jury as being either

1. too remote in time or

2. 352, or,

3. not meeting the standard to introduce third party culpability evidence.

If the Judge rules your evidence does not meet standards, or excludes it for other reasons, and/or your arguments and/or motion papers do not convince him to let you enter that evidence, I don't know if there's much else you can do.

I do not know how the family feels about Overland's performance. I do not approach them or ask them questions. I give them their privacy. They are in a difficult situation.

Overland certainly presented at the preliminary hearing some very creative arguments to get the case thrown out at that phase/stage. I was impressed reading that part of the preliminary hearing transcript, but understand, I am not a lawyer; just a layperson trying to understand the argument presented. To get a gist of what that was all about, read my first day of coverage, Part I of the prelim, which you can find on the quick-links page.

shannon from Seattle said...

I vote for Ruetten's testimony!

Sprocket said...

Are y'all certain? Keep in mind, Overland is NOT going to be challenging much of Ruetten's testimony in his closing....only his memory.

Overland's case will be challenging the validity of the DNA evidence. Keep that in mind. It might help y'all to understand the DNA better, to hear the testimony of the SERI DNA Analyst. I already published the testimony of individuals who were present at the Coroner's office when the bite mark swab was found.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this trial makes you think, what is JUSTICE?

NancyB said...

Sprocket, I see what Overland's motivation was in having Det. Stearns read SL'S diary. I know that he is highly experienced with a stellar reputation so I knew I was missing something! I couldn't fathom what he was up to until your responses. Thanks a bunch because it was bugging me.

I see what you are saying about the independent DNA expert from SERI. Thomas Fedor’s testimony may prove to be the major focus of Overland's 3-4 hour closing. I’m sure that you are correct that Overland will be drilling down on this complex testimony and appreciate your heads up. I definitely defer to your better judgment on this and I'm changing my vote to the detailed testimony of the SERI outside expert.

From your blog article of Day 14 Part III, I'm wondering if Overland's accusation/questioning if Judge Perry is judicially biased is calculated on his part so that he has it on the record for appeal purposes or is there more to it? Any idea? What precipitated him making that statement this time? If my memory serves me, early in the trial when Judge Perry became impatient with Overland's cross; that he thought was bogged down, off track & taking too long, Judge Perry took over the questioning in front of the jury! (I was surprised) Later, not in the presence of the jury Overland went on the record and accused Judge Perry of judicial bias and also hurting his client. The first time he did that it was crystal clear as to why he did. This more recent inquiry of the Judge's bias is more confusing to me as to what precipitated it. Was it merely because Judge Perry did not rule in his favor? Maybe it’s not all that unusual to have a defense attorney make such accusations of a sitting judge but with my very limited experience, I’ve not seen it before except in the movies.

You've been a very busy bee! The Full Witness List is excellent and so helpful. Thanks very much.

Summer said...


Here's why I still vote for Ruetten's testimony: It seems to me there are two schools of thought on the DNA evidence--those that believe it undeniably links Lazarus to the murder and those that believe it's unreliable due to possible contamination/the hole in the envelope/possible conspiracy. Of course Overland will hammer this issue in closings, since it's the most compelling evidence against his client. Still, I don't think the SERI analyst's testimony will do much to change many minds on that issue.

I'm interested in what Ruetten had to say since he's the only link between defendant and victim, and he's remained silent all this time. It's the human element of this case that drew my interest in the first place, and I've always wanted to hear what Ruetten would have to say about it.

Of course, since you've been in court every day, I differ to your judgment on what's most important to transcribe...but since you asked for us to vote, Ruetten still gets mine.

As always, thanks so much for your excellent coverage. It still boggles my mind that the mainstream media has mostly ignored this case. I am so thankful we have you to keep us informed!

Anonymous said...

Has it ever been explained how the envelope with the test tube would have been torn, and how common, if at all, this is? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why the prosecution didn't bring it up, but Lazarus had dental work done in the mid 90's. She had braces which would have dramatically alter her bite. And my understanding is the crime scene was staged right? So if Lazarus had time to stage the crime scene, why wouldn't she have time to clean herself up after? That would explain why the BMW wasn't as bloody as everyone is expecting it to be. Although I've heard from other sources that the crime scene wasn't as bloody as everyone is saying. There were smears by the entry way and on Sherri Rasmussen, but not as if she were attacked with a knife. Most of her injuries were inflicted while she was on the ground in the living room. After the fight in the kitchen dining area above the living room.

Anonymous said...

John Ruetten for my vote as well, because he interest me a lot. Thanks a lot.

Sprocket said...

I am three quarters of the way through on transcribing Day 7 of testimony, where Ruetten first took the stand.

Overland's accusations of judicial bias:
I have no idea what Overland's thought process is. I am not an attorney or the California Court of Appeal. I have no clue if Overland's accusations have merit or not.

The bite mark envelope.
It has never been explained how it could have happened. From testimony, it was inferred that this was not common.

Robert said...

Have any of you ever had to go back through twenty year old taxes or wade through old college notes or do anything that takes you into a four drawer cabinet in the garage looking for a certain manila envelope? I guarantee that manila envelope will not look like it did the day it was placed inside the drawer. It will have taken on a different color and it will be brittle because time is not kind.

Take that same manila envelope and place it in your freezer where it has to share space with other things and leave it for twenty years. It will get moved from the front to the back and from side to side and after twenty years of sharing that space it will probably look worse than a dog's chew toy.

I am amazed that the bite mark envelope was in such good condition after sitting inside a refrigerator in the coroner's office for twenty years. I realize Overland has a job to do, but what did he expect the envelope to look like after all that time?

The lady who removed it for testing said the tear had to be widened in order to get out the tube containing the swab. Which means it had been in there, unmolested the entire time. MO did not present any evidence that the Coroner's office had a breach in security, no evidence that anyone other than its people had been inside that refrigerator, no evidence that the tube could have been removed through that hole, no evidence that the self-sealing tube was no longer sealed when it was cracked open by the people tasked with testing its contents. Which means the contents of the tube were pristine and that should be obvious to everyone.

So, MO's defense has yet to answer how Lazarus' DNA got collected from a bite mark on Sherri Rasmussen's arm. Or why there's a high likelihood that more of her DNA was under Sherri's fingernails.

What is worse, the defense has yet to show us a theater ticket, or a receipt for a purchase at a mall using a credit card, or a tune-up for her automobile or even a conversation with a neighbor that demonstrated she was not on Balboa Blvd in unit #205 at the time of the crime. They've had almost three years to look at her credit cards, check book, tax returns and tell us where she was on February 24th. After all, don't people who take a day off from a labor intensive job like police work do so for a reason? A dental appointment, seeing the tax man, or repairing the transmission on their car? The defense has had plenty of time, and the use of a talented investigator but they have not been able to come up with anything that places Lazarus somewhere else at the time of the murder. How can that be unless she was in unit #205?

Instead, the defense wants us to believe the DNA could not possibly belong to Lazarus because of a wear mark on a twenty year old envelope???

TS said...

You mentioned your interest in the Kelly Soo Park case. I haven't been following, but is a trial date set - or has it already happened?! Thanks!

Sprocket said...

Kelly Soo Park:
Last I spoke to DDA Eric Harmon, it's at least a year off, so 2013.

Sprocket said...

The bit swab envelope.
The LAPD Questions Document examiner stated that often times ink will fade in moist environments.

A walk-in freezer is a moist environment.

The ink on this envelope had faded to the point it was unreadable in parts.

There was ink on the back of the envelope where ink had transferred from another document/envelope that had a date of 1982 on it.

I am going to try to talk to someone who works or has worked in the Coroner's office. Don't know how I'll accomplish that, but we'll see.