Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Los Angeles Press Club, 2011 Southern California Journalism Awards

UPDATE: July 2nd, 2012:  At the awards dinner on June 14th, 2012, Matthew McGough won in both categories for his Atlantic article, "The Lazarus File."  His article in Miller-McCune, "Not Forgotten," won third place. Sprocket.

The Los Angeles Press Club has announced the finalists that honor "... the best work in journalism for 2011".  I'm not on the list but my good friend Matthew McGough is a finalist.

Here's the short list:



* Radley Balko, Reason Magazine, The War on Cameras
* David Evans, Bloomberg Markets, “Benefits Denied”

* Matthew McGough, The Atlantic Magazine, “The Lazarus File”

* Matthew McGough, Miller-McCune Magazine, “Not Forgotten
* Daniel Miller, The Hollywood Reporter, “Scientology’s Hollywood Real Estate Empire”


* Tim Appelo, The Hollywood Reporter, "The Making of A Separation"
* Shikha Dalmia, Reason Magazine, "Bollywood v. Jihad: Which is the Bigger Threat to Fundamentalist Islam: the Pentagon or Mumbai?"

* Nick Gillespie & Veronique de Rugy, Reason Magazine, "The 19 Percent Solution: How to Balance the Budget Without Increasing Taxes"

* M.G. Lord, The Hollywood Reporter, "Elizabeth Taylor: How She Broke the Rules"

* Matthew McGough, The Atlantic Magazine, "The Lazarus File"

Did you see that?  Matthew has three nominations two categories!  He could go home with two statues when the winners are announced at the awards gala on June 24th, 2012.  Matthew, I'll be rooting for you!  Complete list of finalists can be found here.

(Miller-McCune was recently renamed Pacific Standard Magazine. Sprocket)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Iwo Jima Monument, Washington, DC 

My father was a WWII veteran.  He enlisted while still attending high school.  He reported to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Michigan immediately upon graduation.  He shipped out of San Diego and served in the Pacific on a navy war ship.  His ship was under fire and he saw combat.  When his ship was hit with artillery, fellow shipmates fell around him.  In the mid fifties the Navy honored him with a miniature Iwo Jima statue because his ship was close to that action.

Along with our nation, Trials and Tribulations remembers our veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  Lest we forget, there are still 80,000 troops in Afgahnistan. (Reported on ABC's Good Morning America, this morning.) Our prayers are with them and with all the families who are honoring the loss of their loved one today.

There are literally hundreds and hundreds of veteran memorials across the US.  Here are just a few of them.

The U.S. Special Operations Command Memorial,
MacDill Air Force Base, FL

Bloomer Veterans Memorial, Bloomer, WI

 New Mexico Veterans Memorial Park, Albuquerque, NM 

Alaska Veterans Memorial, Denali State Park, AK

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC

Veterans Memorial, Grottoes, VA

Veterans Memorial Park, Winona, MN

Tommy Tucker Veterans Memorial, Friendship Park, Madras, OR

All Veterans Memorial, Bismarck, ND

Veterans Memorial Park, Wichita, KS

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tennessee Supreme Court Stops Overturn of Christian-Newsom Case Convictions

The four defendants.


Tennessee Supreme Court Stops Overturn of Christian-Newsom Case Convictions

On Thursday, the Tennessee Supreme Court halted Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood's decision to overturn convictions in the Christian-Newsom torture-murders, turning back his ruling that former Judge Richard Baumgartner's conduct outside court was so bad that it affected the verdicts and also directing him to take a closer look at his own ability to serve as an independent "13th juror."

Judge Blackwood is being asked to give more reason for the convictions to be overturned than he had previously. It appears that if he cannot, the verdicts for three of the defendants, Letalvis Cobbins, Lemaricus Davidson, and George Thomas, will stand. Davidson received a death sentence, Cobbins and Thomas life without parole.

Knox County prosecutors did not contest the need for a new trial in Vanessa Coleman's case. Baumgartner appeared intoxicated during the reading of the verdict in Coleman's trial in May 2010. The former judge has said he was under the influence of Xanax at the time.

The justices said Blackwood was too hasty in finding that Baumgartner's conduct inside the courtroom was bad enough to throw out the verdicts. There was no proof Baumgartner's trial decisions denied justice for Cobbins, Davidson, and Thomas.

I attended three days of Vanessa Coleman's trial. Judge Baumgartner  seemed tired. Once I saw him fall asleep. Sometimes he would suddenly call a break and head straight for the smoking area. He WAS in charge, however. I saw the live stream of the other three trials and he never seemed impaired. The defense did not question his decisions at the time.

It is my impression that Judge Baumgartner DID act as "13th juror" in the first three trials. He certainly commented at length in the sentencing hearings for these three defendants. I attended the 2010 sentencing hearings for Davidson and Coleman.

The evidence was overwhelming. There was no hint of impropriety by law enforcement. There was no prosecutorial misconduct. Baumgartner went out of his way to get jury pools fair to the defendants. The best defense attorneys in Knoxville were appointed to represent the defendants.

The victims, Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, were both tortured for hours, raped and murdered. A former Los Angeles County Deputy DA, who is an email correspondent of mine, told me it was about the worst murder case he had heard of since the Manson killings.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has finally brought some common sense to this case.

 The victim's parents react to the Supreme Court Ruling.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Christian-Newsom Case News: Baumgartner Arrested!

Former Judge Richard Baumgartner


Recent News In Christian-Newsom Case

This past week, there were three developments in the Christian-Newsom case.

First, the Tennessee Attorney General appealed directly to the Tennessee State Supreme Court to block the retrials of three of the defendants. They are not contesting the retrial of the fourth, Vanessa Coleman.

Second, former Judge Richard Baumgartner, was arrested on Tuesday, May 15th, 2012, by the FBI. He was brought into federal court in shackles and was charged with seven federal counts that allege he failed to report felonious activity. In March 2011, Baumgartner was forced to resign the bench after pleading guilty in state court to buying prescription drugs from probationers in his own court.

Third, on Thursday May 17th, 2012, a motions hearing was heard concerning the retrial of Vanessa Coleman. When she is tried again, victim Christopher Newsom's name won't be on the indictment. If her attorney, Ted Lavit, has his way, it will be as if Chris Newsom never existed.

Coleman was acquitted of all charges relating to Newsom, and was convicted of facilitation only, of Channon Christian's rape and murder. On the other hand, facilitation will be easier to prove. Remember the diary?

The trial date for the ringleader, Lemaricus Davidson, had been June 11th, 2012. It may be delayed by the latest appeal. My feeling is the retrials will go on. Baumgartner's latest arrest will make the Tennessee Supreme Court even more likely to reject the appeal.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus' New Digs

Stephanie Lazarus' likely new digs, Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW), located in Chowchilla, California

Many of our readers at Trials and Tribulations wonder what happens to convicted felons once a sentence is handed down. Although this is the usual procedure in California, I would expect this to be close to what happens in most states.

A convicted felon is usually transferred from county custody within 30 days of sentencing and is taken to an intake facility for processing, which includes a needs assessment in case the inmate has special health or psychiatric issues, or special custody challenges, such as homosexuality, sex offenders (especially child molesters), gang affiliation, celebrity or other special status, including crimes against high-profile victims, former law enforcement, attorney or judge. There are several intake facilities for males, the most well-known of these are the California Institution for Men (CIM) in Southern California and San Quentin in Northern California. Due to the sheer number of inmates entering the system, there are now other intake facilities.  Sometimes an inmate’s needs are very well known prior to his or her being remanded to state custody; for example, Phil Spector had substance abuse problems and is a high-profile celebrity trustee, so he was assigned to Corcoran’s Substance Abuse Facility immediately.  He will always remain in a protective housing situation throughout his incarceration.

An inmate is assigned an initial level of custody based upon the crime he or she was convicted of as well as other factors. Most murders are security placement Level III or Level IV initially, and will be placed in a prison facility befitting of that assessment. Those levels are determined by the type of felony, how much education the inmate has, if the inmate’s stay at the state facility was free of behavior problems, or if the inmate has health or psychological issues. An inmate’s custody level can change if he or she programs well by not receiving any write-ups for disruptive behavior, and participates in rehab programs offered by the prison.

A Level IV inmate requires housing in a cell, with an increased number of correctional officers within the housing unit or wing, with restricted time out of the cell. One of California’s toughest prisons, Pelican Bay, houses Level IV inmates and is set up so there need not be any contact whatsoever between the inmate and corrections officers.

But wait, Stephanie Lazarus is female. Is the procedure the same? Absolutely. It is likely she will be initially received at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona. CIW houses mostly level I through III inmates, and is where Manson girls Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel live. I don’t believe Corona is going to be where Stephanie Lazarus stays. For the most part, housing is in dormitories or in small groups. I also would not be surprised if Lazarus bypasses the intake facility and goes right to her new home in the San Joaquin Valley.

Chowhilla, located in the San Joaquin Valley’s Madera County, is home to two women’s correctional facilities—the older Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and the newer Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW). Although CCWF contains California’s “Death Row” for female inmates, VSPW has an Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU or AdSeg) and a Security or Special Housing Unit (SHU), and that is what Lazarus will require from the get-go. She may be a felon, but she’s not going to be a popular felon because of her law enforcement background. She may run into an inmate that she was responsible for arresting and convicting. There is also a bit of “celebrity” involved for an inmate who manages to harm a special housing-type inmate, such as a child molester or cop. 

More Manson trivia: Susan Atkins was housed at VSPW because it is the designated institution for trustees with mobility impairment. It’s also where pregnant inmates go.

Being an AdSeg or SHU-housed inmate means Lazarus will not mingle with the general population or on the prison yard. The special housing units have their own yards and will be populated with inmates who could be harmed in the general population. This reduces the odds that Lazarus herself will be harmed.

Even though she will be in a housing unit apart from the regular inmate population, eventually Lazarus will have a “job” on her unit. Trustees in California’s prisons are given two hot meals a day, and a box lunch that usually consists of a sandwich and lunchmeat or peanut butter, a piece of fruit, a cookie and juice.  If she needs to see a doctor, she will either have to inform a corrections officer, or wait for a member of the medical staff to do “rounds” on the unit. If medical needs require treatment in the prison’s “clinic,” she will be taken there accompanied by corrections officers, who are in place to preserve inmates’ safety—not to punish!

As for the weather in Chowchilla, summers are hot and dry, with highs in the 110s not uncommon. In winter, the thermometer can drop as low as 45 degrees, and from November to March, the area is prone to “Tule fog,” a special brand of fog that hugs the ground and makes driving safely nearly impossible. The drive is a tick over 4 hours north of Los Angeles on Hwy 99, so for Lazarus’ family to visit is an all-day adventure. San Francisco is about 2 hours, 40 minutes to the east, and airport closest to Chowchilla is in San Jose, 2 hours east. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Sentenced, Part II

Judge Robert J. Perry, during the trial
© Thomas Broersma
Continued from Part I.....

UPDATED May 17th, 2012 1:20 PM
I've received by E-mail, the full text of John Ruetten's statement to the court. Many thanks to John Ruetten, and those who forwarded it to me. Here it is below. Sprocket.

Your Honor,
Thank you for the opportunity to speak during this hearing. There are no words that can describe the loss of Sherri and whole of this experience, so it makes no sense to talk very long. It suffices to say that the Rasmussen family, my family, and Stephanie’s family have been thrust into a bizarre world of disbelief, and indescribable sadness. Sherri Rasmussen had a profound impact on so many people, and I was proud that she agreed to be my wife. It was impossible not to notice Sherri when she entered a room. To me, her physical presence was startling. I can clearly remember the first moment I laid eyes on her. I had just arrived at a party and she was standing in a covered patio area talking to several other people. She was 6 feet 1 inches tall in her high heels, wearing blue jeans, a white blouse, and dangly earrings. I was stunned, but somehow managed to approach her and avoid acting like a complete idiot. She said yes when I called later to ask for a date. When I arrived at Sherri’s house for that first date, she was waiting on the balcony so she could guide me toward her front door. I came to understand that this was just like Sherri. She knew how to make a person feel welcome and at ease. Sherri Rasmussen was a physical presence, and my heart still races when I look at pictures of her. But Sherri was extraordinary more for who she was than the way she looked. She was a hard worker, a consummate professional, a leader, a diplomat, forgiving, tough, and a kid at heart. I was constantly surprised by this amazing combination of traits. Like the rest of us, Sherri was not perfect, but she still deserved to live a long and full life.

For those of us who are directly involved, or those who sat through the trial, we can just begin to imagine the terror and disbelief Sherri must have felt in her last moments of life. I am sure that I am not alone when I say that I just can’t bare thinking about these moments. But Sherri’s loss, the way she died, and the trial 25 years after her death has had a profound impact on many, many others. The effects span a generation, creating pain for those whose lives should have never been touched by this tragic event. Again, words are feeble tools for describing these impacts, but there are so many moments and so very many tears. What I can say is that I have spent, and will continue to spend, many hours praying for everyone involved in this tragedy.

Your honor, I am compelled to end with my feelings for the Rasmussen's. After meeting Sherri, I could not help but notice the central role she played in this fun-loving and down-to-earth family. Nels and Loretta Rasmussen lost much more than a daughter when they lost Sherri. Only they fully appreciate what I am talking about. Despite my own tremendous grief, I must still apologize to them for my inability to coexist with the pain they were enduring. I just did not have the strength. The Rasmussen's have treated me like a son and a brother. Contemplating their profound grief, and the fact that Sherri’s death occurred because she met and married me, brings me to my knees. I do not know, and fear I will never know, how to cope with this appalling fact. I have resigned myself to praying for some measure of peace, and trying to avoid the daydreams about a world where Sherri is still with us, and this pointless tragedy never occurred.

Your Honor, thank you again for this opportunity to speak.
UPDATED May 17th, 2012 for spelling, clarity.

May 11th, 2012 ~ Sentencing Day
As I was waiting in the hallway, just taking in the people who were here.... John Ruetten's friend David Neuman, a male friend with John's sister, Gail, the extended Rasmussen family, I realize that I better take some notes before I'm called to step in line and enter the courtroom.  I open my laptop and get a few quick notes written before those of us with media badges are told to line up against the wall for entry into Dept. 104.

From memory, I believe it's Jayne Goldberg's husband who approaches me first to tell me that Judge Perry will not let Jayne read a victim impact statement.  Only immediate family.  I tell him that I absolutely will publish her statement for her, so her voice can be heard.

When I walk inside Dept. 104,  I get a smile on my face when I see head-cowboy, Detective Rob Bub (sitting in one of the plastic chairs against the back wall near the door) and say hello to him.  I'm glad that someone from the Van Nuys Homicide Unit was able to attend the sentencing.

As the press enters, we fan out in the first row and take our favorite positions.  My friend Matthew McGough motions to me not to sit in my favorite spot, but to sit more towards the center of the aisle, and closer to where the podium is set up in the well.

Familiar faces from the press are Thomas Broersma, Steven Mikulan, the LA Times' Andrew Blankstein, Pat LaLama, Local ABC 7's Miriam Hernandez, and Terri Keith of City News to name a few.  The Associated Press reporter is someone I've never seen before. I saw the same Dateline camera crew that was on verdict watch with me back in March.  They would be the pool camera.
The media camera is set up at the end of the jury box closest to the gallery.  This is probably where either Judge Perry or the Superior Court's Public Information Office has told them where to place it.  It's my opinion it's the only location where they can aim their camera at Perry, then Lazarus and also at the podium and try not to film those sitting in the gallery.  I've never heard of a Judge in the downtown criminal court letting the media film the jury or members of the public.  They control where the media is allowed to set up their cameras.

In the well of the court, there is only one row of chairs set up against the low dividing wall next to the gallery.  In those seats are Assistant DA Pat Dixon (who oversees all special prosecution divisions), Robbery-Homicide Detective Greg Stearns (who I later learn came in to court on his day off...that's dedication), and DDA Rosa Alarcon (who worked on the case).  In the end chair farthest from me and near the aisle is District Attorney Steve Cooley.

Sherri's family is in the second row behind me along with their attorney, John Taylor.  Extended members of Sherri's family who could not attend the trial are here.  Her sister Teresa's husband, Brian, sister Connie, Connie's daughter Rachel (who we saw in the Christmas photos as an infant), Rachel's daughter Hannah (4 years-old and adorable; dressed in a pink and white dress with a pink ribbon in her hair), as well as John, Gail, Jayne Goldberg and Jayne's husband Michael. I believe her cousin Robin is in the back row.  Jayne gives me a copy of her statement and I tell her that I will be happy to post it for her.

On the defense side, I see Lazarus' mother, Carol.  In the front row are her brother Steven, Steven's female companion, and her sister Judi.  I see a few other familiar faces whose names and relationships I don't know.  At first, I don't see Scott Young, Lazarus' husband.  I ask Matthew if he's seen him.  Then it comes down the line, I think from Pat LaLama that Young is here, he's in the second row on the defense side near the door.  I look again and I still can't see him.  And then I realize he must be sitting way back in his chair, hidden from view by the person next to him on his left.

 As I turn around and make note of everyone here, I see that Ruetten is holding a typed paper in his hand and reading over it.  My prediction was he would give a victim impact statement.  I think John is the most misunderstood person in this tragedy.  Some have called Ruetten a cad for sleeping with Lazarus while engaged to Sherri.  My personal opinion is, he was truthful on the stand, when he testified he was young, he made a mistake and in over his head when it came to seeing Lazarus and agreeing to sleep with her that night.  I think the death of his wife completely devastated him.  I think it took him years to recover from discovering her murdered in their home.  What ever poor judgements he made back then, he's paid for it many times over.

8:35 AM
Steven Mikulan, Matthew and I chat about the first Spector trial, getting to know Dominick Dunne, the jury site visit, the LA Times reporter Peter Hong, and how Hong, at the time was trying to cultivate this "boys club" among the press covering the case.

People are still getting seated.  Looking back I see DDA James Garrison (who I originally reported looked like he just walked off a beach from surfing) who channeled the "ghost/spirit of Lloyd Mahaney" for the jurors.  There are two suited investigator/sheriff types sitting in the gallery along with the press.

8:40 AM
The court clerk, Melody Ramarez addresses the room.  "Ladies and gentlemen, we're about to start the sentencing."  Judge Perry enters the courtroom.  He's wearing a bright red tie with his robes and white shirt.  The door to the holding cell area opens and Lazarus walks out in an orange jumpsuit.  (I didn't think Judge Perry would let her wear civilian clothes like Judge Fidler did for Phil Spector at his sentencing.  Spector got to wear his long coat-tails and his page-boy wig. Sprocket)  Because of where the deputies surrounding her are standing I am not able to see her give any glances to her family, although I've read in a few press reports that she did.  Her hair is not in a ponytail and it does not appear to have been combed.

Judge Perry calls the case to order.  Lazarus chats with Courtney Overland to her right.  She keeps her head down and away from the cameras.  Judge Perry informs counsel he has read a defense motion to correct the probation report. He's provided a corrected report to counsel.

Judge Perry inquires with Overland if there is anything else from the defense and can they proceed with sentencing.

JP: The law allows for certain person(s) to address the court.... (snip) ...allows victim impact statements.  (The law?) allows them to express their views.  (snip) I require .... statements be made to me and not the defendant.

DDA Presby stands and calls for Loretta Rasmussen, Sherri's mother.

Loretta Rasmussen © Thomas Broersma
"Thank you your Honor.  Because of a selfish brutal-act of violence Sherri's family, extended family and friends have endured extreme heart ache and pain.  A pain for which there is no cure.  Everyday we miss her laughter and love.  Our hearts and prayers go out to Stephanie's family and especially to her mother."

Loretta quickly sits back down and Teresa Lane, Sherri's younger sister is called.  My eyes are already starting to tear up and I don't have a tissue, a paper napkin, anything.

Teresa Lane © Thomas Broersma

"November 23, 1985 was one of the happiest days of my sister's life, her wedding day.  It was also my fifth wedding anniversary.  Jokingly, I told Sherri it was a good thing she was getting married that day because I could barely fit into my dress, due to the fact I was three months pregnant.  I felt so privileged that Sherri and I would be sharing the same anniversary for the rest of our lives.  Little did I know three short months later while dealing with my grief and trying to stay calm to not jeopardize my pregnancy, I would be writing this letter to Sherri for her memorial.

I know that you are gone, there are no words to express the pain, but your spirit is still with me.  You have left me with the challenge to keep your spirit alive.  By meeting this challenge I am giving in return the gift of knowing you, to others, which enables me to never lose the Sherri I love.  As always you'll be there to lend a listening ear, share my joys and dream my dreams.  This is not too much to ask for all that you have given.
I Love You

Even after writing this letter so long ago I have learned over the years before and during the trial that Sherri still inspires. The prosecuting attorneys, detectives, neighbors, co-workers and the press have been affected by what a great person Sherri was, even though some did not know her personally.  Both of my sons know Sherri to be a great and loving person, but I wish they would have had the chance to know her personally.  What a gift that would have been.  After the trial I have learned about more and more people my sister affected, past and present, and how they were inspired by what a kind and loving person she was.  Can you imagine what she would have done if she was still with us?

My husband has told me over the years that I would never be able to understand why someone would take my sister's life and he was right.  I do not understand how someone could be so callous and have such a lack of respect for life.  What a waste it was to take Sherri's life because she still lives on in all of us.

Lastly I wanted to thank everyone involved on the prosecution team, Shannon, Paul, Daniel and Greg for what they have done for me, my family and Sherri.  I want to give a special thanks to Jim Nuttall and his team and the DNA specialist for their unwavering work to bring justice to this case."

Next is Connie Rasmussen, Sherri's older sister.

Connie Rasmussen © Thomas Broersma

"Your Honor, thank you for this opportunity to address the court regarding the impact of losing Sherri.

First I would like to thank Presby and Nunez for portraying Sherri as the vibrant, caring person she was!  She is not the contracted victim on the floor.

Sherri was my best friend; we shared problems and secrets, joys and sorrows.  She was always there....ready to listen, willing to help, telling you just what you needed to hear.

She was full of warmth, love and caring.  She became a Registered Nurse at the age of nineteen.  As I reflect back I see her working the 12-8 shift, her long hair pulled back in a ponytail working the Surgical Intensive Care Unit.  We often met on our breaks to share our work experiences.  She at only nineteen, yet balanced life and death decisions with ease.

Her sense of humor I always admired. She brought happiness, harmony and peace to all those that she came in contact.

She had a special intellectual gift, which she tried to keep a secret, but all that worked with her or knew her, knew she had a special gift, which she choose to use to help others.  During our senior year at Loma Linda University she was asked to join Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Professional Honor Society.  Because I was not asked as well, she refused to join.  We both were inducted after finishing our graduate studies.  She always considered others before herself.

We were taught that we should stand up for ourselves and be independent but always knew that our family and the Lord were by our sides for support at all times.

Throughout the closing statements I felt Sherri was present in this courtroom standing up for herself.  (In) Sherri's effort to survive, she captured the scientific evidence needed to identify her murderer.  It is fitting that science was the key in the prosecution.  I can hear Sherri saying with gusto "YES!" because scientific advances had made it possible to bring justice in this case.  How fitting that science the field of study Sherri loved, has brought her closure.

Sherri was my sister, colleague and best friend all in one which is rare.  I was lucky to have Sherri as my sister, best friend and colleague because she always brought out the best in me.  Not a day goes by that she is not sorely missed.  I look forward to the day when I can once again, put my arms around her and catch her up on the life events that she has missed.  What a joyous reunion that is going to be."

Sherri's widower, John Ruetten is called.

John Ruetten, Sherri's husband © Thomas Broersma

"Thank you for the opportunity to speak. There are no words to describe the loss of Sherri.  (snip) Suffice to say the loss of the Rasmussen family, my family and Stephanie's family, have been thrust into a bizarre world of disbelief ... (snip)... (and? indescibable?) sadness.  Sherri Rasmussen had a profound impact on so many people.  (Ruetten starts to cry and it makes me cry. I try to control myself but I cannot. His grief has a profound effect on me. Sprocket) I was proud that she (snip) ... be my wife.  (snip) I can clearly remember the first moment I laid eyes on her. (snip) It was at a party... (Ruetten describes what she was wearing, and that she was six feet, one inches tall in her high heels...) I was stunned."

Ruetten recalls their first date, how he remembers her waiting on the balcony, so she could guide him to the front door.  Ruetten's voice cracks again. It's heartbreaking.  "Sherri knew how to make someone feel at ease."  Ruetten states he's asked to relay a story, about how his father had the opportunity to dance with Sherri at a friend's wedding.  Ruetten's voice is barely keeping it together.  He rubs his nose several times during his statement.  His father was smitten and said something to the effect that Sherri really has got it together.

"Sherri Rasmussen was a physical presence in my life and my heart still races when I look at (photos of?) her. (snip) Ruetten talks about her character.  "I was constantly surprised by this amazing combination of traits."  (snip) "For those of us in this trial ... (snip) ... we can ...(snip) imagine the terror and disbelief Sherri must have felt.. (snip) .. last moments of life.  (snip) We know what Sherri was ...(snip) to do... (snip) She was trying to get away. (snip) All she wanted was to be in her own loving relationship ... (snip) with her own loving family and with me. (snip) Her death (snip) the trial (snip) had had a profound impact on many others.  (snip) But there are so many moments and so many tears. (snip) I will spend many hours praying for everyone... (snip)

Your Honor, I'm compelled to end with my feelings towards the Rasmussen family. (She) ...played the central role; she played ...(snip) family. Nels and Loretta Rasmussen lost much more than a daughter... (snip) ...lost Sherri. Only they fully appreciate... (snip) Despite my own tremendous grief, I must still apologize for my ability to coexist with the pain they were enduring.  I just did not have the strength. (snip) ...contemplating their profound grief and the fact that Sherri's death occurred because she met and married me brings me to my knees.  I do not know, and fear I will ever (never?) know, how to cope with this appalling fact. (snip)   ...daydreams where Sherri is still with us... (snip) pointless tragedy never occurs."

Ruetten's voice breaks in his last words to the court.

JP: Thank you Mr. Ruetten.

DDA Presby informs the court that Nels Rasmussen has asked him to read a statement.

SP: How can one (?) the grief and agony of (loss?) a child. (snip) ... by such a brutal and selfish act of violence.  Sherri was a (snip) gifted, loving, daughter. (snip) The pain cause to (snip) will never heal.
(snip) Sherri will forever be missed by her (?), family (snip) and society as a whole.

Presby talks about her nursing goals.

SP: We can only guess what great good she might have done (snip) life (snip) had not been so callously taken from her. (snip)

I was not surprised that Lazarus did not speak. I expected that. I am surprised that no one from Lazarus' family spoke, but it may be that Judge Perry did not allow statements from her family. I don't know.  (I do know that at the sentencing for Tyquan Knox last November 2011, the defendant's mother addressed Judge Pastor. Sprocket)

I think it's a testament to the Rasmussen family and John Ruetten as well as to the character of these individuals. I'm impressed and amazed that they did not take this opportunity to direct any negative, derogatory words about Lazarus, or express anger or outrage to her specifically. Judge Perry asks Overland if there is any legal cause why sentence should not be pronounced.

JP The sentence (snip) is set by law. I will now pronounce sentence.

I couldn't keep myself from crying during the impact statements.  My nose is completely stuffed up.  I still have a long way to go to stay emotionally detached during victim impact statements.  Years ago Dominick Dunne told me he had the same difficulty; he often ended up identifying with the victim's family.

On count one, first degree murder sentenced to state penitentiary for a term of 25 years to life.  For the special allegation of a firearm ... an additional two years. The total sentence is 27 years to life.  Defendant arrested on June 5th, 2009. Court has calculated that she has been in custody 1,072 days. She is entitled to good time credits of 536 days; total credits is 1,608.  She is to pay a restitution fine of $100.00.  She has the right to appeal.

Presby states there is nothing more from the people.  The defense gives notice that they are filing an appeal.

JP: This concludes the matter.

Its' about 9:05 AM.

The sentencing took less than 20 minutes, and then it was over.  Many people in the gallery, including myself appear lost as we slowly make our way out into the hallway.   Matthew wants to make sure he checks in with several people before we make our way to the DA's press conference up on the 18th floor of the Criminal Court Building.

At the press conference, DA Steve Cooley spoke, DDA Presby spoke and DDA Nunez spoke. They fielded a few disappointing questions from the press, mainly from people who did not attend the trial or only attended it sporadically and were not aware of the facts of the case.  After that press conference, the Rasmussen family attorney, John Taylor holds a presser in the Temple Street plaza in front of the building.  Matthew and I were late to that but did arrive in time to hear John Taylor tell the media that the LAPD should be concerned, and should have questions about three areas in time. The initial 1986 investigation, the early 90's when evidence went missing, and in 2005 when the DNA came back as a female perpetrator.

I believe it was on the plaza when I spoke to Teresa and Jayne about why Sherri didn't tell her husband about the suspected stalking, or her problems with Lazarus.  They both said that Sherri was an independent person.  She would have wanted to solve her own problems.  Sherri would not have wanted her family to "think less of John" which is why she probably did not tell her close friend and family about all of this, or about John sleeping with Lazarus.  I believe Jayne told me that Sherri was going to give herself a few weeks to deal with Lazarus on her own, and if she couldn't then she might have asked for help.  It was just who she was; her confidence in her ability to handle this herself.

Matthew and I made our way back into the building where DDA Nunez agreed to give Matthew a few moments of his time to answer some questions and I got to tag along. We ended up getting invited to lunch...but lunch and that ensuing discussion was off the record.

Before I left the court building, Teresa and Connie were kind enough to give me copies of their victim impact statements as well as Loretta's.  For a long time I contemplated approaching John Ruetten, to ask him if I could get a copy of his impact statement but I never drew up the courage. As promised, below is Jayne Goldberg's victim impact statement, which she gave me.

My name is Jayne Goldberg and I want to thank you for this opportunity to address the court and to talk about Sherri, to speak for all of those friends and colleagues who knew her and loved her… who love her still.

At various times Sherri was my coworker, my boss, my roommate and always my friend. As a compassionate bedside caregiver and a competent and benevolent manager she was well respected by her nursing colleagues. To this day, all of the care I give as a nurse has to pass the Sherri test. Is my care competent? Is it compassionate? As a friend she was generous with her time, fun to be with and so easy to know. To paraphrase Roy Croft, I loved her “Not only for what she was, 
But for what I was when I was with her”. Sherri was special in so many ways. I wish all of you could have had the opportunity to know her.

Most of all, Sherri was a gentle person who would never, could never have hurt anyone the way she was hurt on that terrible day.

Back in 1982, I took a self defense class at school and Sherri and I would discuss what I was learning. One day she asked me to ask the instructor what to do in a situation where you are confronted by someone with a gun. The instructor said you should either talk your way out or try to get away. I know that’s what Sherri was trying to do. She was trying to get away. She wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. She was just trying to save her own life. A life she had worked for, had dreamed of, a life she had a right to, a life that was stolen from her. She was very accomplished for her age but all she really wanted was to be of service to others and to be in a loving relationship like her own loving family. She had found that loving relationship with John.

The last time I saw Sherri was Sunday February 16th. I had just become engaged on Valentine’s Day and had gone out to Sherri’s to show her my ring. She had been saving her Bridal magazines for me as we both waited anxiously for Michael to pop the question. I remember we were standing facing each other in the living room. When she handed them to me she said, “Jayne, enjoy this time …my wedding day was the happiest day of my life”. The truth is I might not have even started dating my husband if not for Sherri. She was the one who insisted in June of ’84 that I go to the party where that cute Pharmacist was going to be. She had already met John and was incredibly happy with the promise of their new relationship. But it wasn’t enough that she was happy. Sherri was the kind of person who wanted her friends to be as happy as she was.

Before Sherri was murdered, I thought I knew what grief was. As a critical care nurse I had often helped families deal with grief. I will never forget the moment I heard about Sherri’s murder. Until then I hadn’t really appreciated how gut wrenching grief can be. Words can’t describe the shock and pain I felt, how distraught I became as the world suddenly turned upside down. On some level that shock and disbelief never goes away. For weeks afterward it took all the courage I had just to stand upright. I didn’t understand how the rest of the world could go on as if nothing had happened. I wanted to grab people on the street and say. “Don’t you understand? My friend is dead.”

I did eventually go shopping for a wedding dress because, as Loretta said, Sherri would have wanted me to, but I went dressed in black and with tears streaming down my face. Finally one curious consultant asked me if I wanted to get married. When I looked at my wedding photos I saw a blank space where Sherri should have been. To this day I start to weep, even in the grocery store, if I hear a song from the 80’s that reminds me of Sherri. I can’t go to a wedding or a funeral without sobbing uncontrollably. It always comes back to me that one minute we were all so happy at Sherri’s wedding and then just 3 months later all the same people were there, grief stricken at Sherri’s funeral. The sadness will stay with me forever, like a stone in my heart. I will never get over this. There will never be closure.

I never saw Sherri again. We were advised not to see her in the casket, not to have that as our last memory of her. I’ve always regretted not seeing her one last time. Not having a chance to talk to her, to tell her how much she meant to me, what a good and loyal friend she had been, to tell her “I love you”. As a matter of fact until I saw Sherri’s morgue photo during the preliminary hearing I truly believed she was in a witness protection program. Surely she couldn’t be dead. Not Sherri! And then she died again when the cold case was opened, and again at the preliminary hearing and again at the trial and again today…

Anne Marie McDonald, a Canadian writer, says this about grief: “Grief is a fulcrum …The joint in time between the vanishing of hope and the beginning of loss. The missing link…Allows the living to move forward and the dead finally to return, smile, and open their arms to us in memory”. After 26 years of grief, hopefully this verdict, this tiny measure of justice for Sherri will be that missing link that will allow us, the living, to move forward and Sherri finally to return, smile and open her arms to us in memory.

I love you, Sherri. I’ll see you in my dreams.

I know many of you have asked about "when" Lazarus will be eligible for parole.  From several LE sources, I've been told somewhere between 14 and 15 years.  Although she will be eligible, that doesn't mean she will be granted parole on her first appearance in front of the parole board.  That's pretty much an "unheard of" situation. It's my guess that she will probably serve her complete sentence before the board will consider a release.  It's my opinion that Laarus would have to admit to the murder and express remorse before ever being granted parole.  Matthew found out that the Rasmussen's had their impact statements video recorded for any and all future parole hearings that might happen when they are no longer alive.

As soon as Matthew can get the copy of the courtroom video he received from the NBC camera guy converted to a viewable format, I'll have the complete video of the sentencing up on the web.  Also coming will be an audio recording of the DA's press conference and possibly an audio recording of John Taylor's presser.  Sprocket



Friday, May 11, 2012

Stephanie Lazarus Sentenced Today

Defense attorney Mark Overland, Stephanie Lazarus,
March 8th, 2012 at the reading of the verdict
I just got home and I'm exhausted. The heat in the Valley is a bruiser today.  As soon as I rest up (and get my kitchen cleaned up from this morning) I will put up my notes.  I could not see Stephanie's face from where I was sitting.  She kept her head down and turned slightly to her right, away from the media video camera that was set up in the jury box.  According to the District Attorney's press release, she showed no emotion during the sentencing.  She was in an orange jail jumpsuit, not civilian clothing.  She did not have her hair back in a ponytail; it did not look like it had been brushed.

Lazarus' husband Scott Young was in the gallery along with several other of her family members.  The last sentencing hearing I attended (Tyquan Knox case) the defendant's mother addressed the court.  I thought for sure that someone from Lazarus' family would address the court but they did not.  It could be because Judge Perry did not allow it.  Judge Perry did not allow Sherri's former roommate, Jayne Goldberg to read a statement since she was not a direct family member.  I will have her statement up on T&T when I write my update.  Sherri's mother Loretta spoke first, then her sister Teresa then her sister Connie.  John Ruetten's voice broke into sobs many times during the reading of his statement.  DDA Shannon Presby was asked to read a statement for Nels Rasmussen.  In less than 30 minutes, it was all over.  Judge Perry did not add any statements or comments to reading the sentence into the record and the calculation of her credits so far for time served.  I will have much more about the sentence, when she will first be eligible for parole, etc., either later tonight or tomorrow morning.  I'm going along with fellow contributor CaliGirl9's insightful guess that Lazarus will be sent to the same facility as the Manson girls.  Sprocket.

I'm in the hallway.  John Ruetten, his sister Gail Lopes nad possibly her husband are here.  There are many more members of Sherri Rasmussen's family here.  I got to meet Sherri's cousin, who could not attend the trial.  I believe it's going to be video taped today, but I don't believe it will be live streamed. I haven't checked with the PIO yet.  I was just catching up with Steven Mikulan.  Now I have to get in line.

5:00 AM
At 8:30 AM PT today, in Dept. 104 of the downtown Criminal Justice Center (CJC) former LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus, 52, will be sentenced by Judge Robert J. Perry for the February 1986 first degree murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, a Glendale Adventist critical care nurse and the new bride of her ex-lover, John Ruetten.

For those of you living in a cave, Rasmussen was badly beaten (her face disfigured), bitten on the forearm and shot three times in the chest in her Van Nuys town home, sometime in the morning hours of February 24th, 1986.  Her body was discovered around 6 PM that same day when her husband, Ruetten, came home from work.  The cold case was solved in 2009 by the Van Nuys Homicide Unit (Detective Rob Bub, unit supervisor, Detective James Nuttall, Detective Pete Barba, and Detective Marc Martinez, a fabulous group of cowboys. Sprocket) when Detective Nuttall picked up the cardboard box containing the four murder-book binders that had been waiting patiently on his desk for many months, opened the case file and started looking at the crime scene photos with fresh eyes.

It is my understanding there is very little leeway Judge Perry has in sentencing since the punishment for murder is included in the California Penal Code 187.  Lazarus will be sentenced under the Penal Code that was in effect when the murder was committed back in 1986.  She is expected to be sentenced to 27 years to life; 25 years for the murder and 2 years for the gun charge.  If Lazarus had committed the murder in more recent times, she would be facing twice as much time in prison.  (Read the sentence of Tomiekiea Johnson, recently convicted of first degree murder with a gun. Johnson collapsed when her sentence was read in court.)

The Superior Court's Public Information Office (PIO) has informed the media that there will be "additional seating limitations" for the sentencing.  It's a good bet there will be a reduced number of seats awarded by lottery for the general public.  Although I have a guaranteed seat for the sentencing, I have to be on the 9th Floor very early to claim it.  I'll be taking the Red Line Train not long after the sun rises.

There is a strong possibility that there will be video of the sentencing since Judge Perry has approved video cameras for the reading of the verdict, but I wouldn't count on there being live streaming of the sentencing anywhere on the web (mostly because of the difficulties I know news media has had in the past of trying to arrange live streaming in the CJC).  I will post an update about cameras as soon as I'm on the 9th Floor and am able to ask the PIO staff.

The sentence won't be a mystery.  The big mystery is if Lazarus will speak at her sentencing.  I'm not the best predictor of these things but it's my guess that we will not hear from Lazarus herself.  It's my opinion that she has more to lose (via appeals) if she speaks to the court at this time.  The other mystery is whether or not John Ruetten will speak about the impact Sherri's death had on him and his family.  My opinion is that he will, but we'll see.  To me, it's a foregone conclusion that members of the Rasmussen family will speak and I believe this will be a difficult time for all of Sherri's loved ones. I will also be interested to see who from Lazarus' family attends the sentencing and if any of them put a statement to the Court on the record.

Since Judge Perry is very strict about electronic devices inside his courtroom, I will not be publishing an update until after the hearing is completely over, most likely in the late afternoon.

 Continued in Part II....

Sherri Rae Rasmussen

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Going to Court: Dept. 30, II - Gerhard Becker Case

Updated: spelling, accuracy

April 25th, 2012
I arrive on the 5th floor around 8:15 AM.   I'm here to hang out with my friends Matthew McGough and Thomas Broersma and find out what the status is on the Gerhard Becker case.  Becker is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of career firefighter Glenn Allen.  Ever since Matthew and I attended the last Becker hearing we thought it would be fabulous if Thomas could "sketch the room" (if he was able to) because of all the fascinating characters that worked in the well of the court.

I'm the first to arrive and Becker is already here.  He's sitting across the hall from me and the initial image so amazes me I have to call Matthew (who's still on the freeway) and describe it to him.  On Becker's frame is a nice suit and he has one leg crossed over the other.  His GPS ankle monitoring bracelet is clearly visible on the crossed leg and it's got a wire coming from it where it is plugged into the only electrical outlet in the hallway.  Sitting next to him is a slender, casually dressed woman with lifeless dishwater blond hair.  She has on white pants, a plaid shirt and a leather-looking camel colored light-weight jacket.

I enter the courtroom when it opens at 8:30 AM and take a seat in the middle second bench row.  Becker and his companion stay in the hallway.  From the jail area a very loud, angry voice interrupts the low murmur of voices in the room, "I'M HERE!  WHAT DO YOU WANT!!"

People with appearances line up in the left aisle in front of the sheriff's desk, where she politely asks each one, "Do you have an attorney?"  'No,' is the common response whereas the sheriff hands them a piece of paper and tells them, "Fill this out, sign and date it and an attorney will be assigned to you."  I see a male sheriff pacing in the detainee cage on the right.

It's the middle of the week and a very light day for appearances.  It's nothing like the hustle and bustle Matt and I experienced several weeks before.

On the right aisle, there is a line forming in front of the LAPD BOND desk.  People turn their signed papers into the sheriff and take a seat in the gallery.

8:43 AM Becker and his companion are still out in the hallway.  A few moments later Dept. 30's court reporter arrives along with a few other staff in the well.  There are not nearly as many people seated in the well as the last time; several seats are still empty.  Only one language interpreter has arrived so far and it's not one of the two women I saw last time.  I make a note that Monday must be the day to come with all the arrests that must happen over the weekend. 

8:46 AM  I look around behind me to see if Matt has made it yet and I see Becker and his companion standing in the back of the courtroom.  It's a good bet they are waiting for their counsel to arrive.

Right beside the large custody cage there is a small placard that says, "Maximum Occupancy 197". 

9:05 AM Judge Shelly Torrealba takes the bench.  The court reporter chats with her for a moment at the bench. 

Sometime in the morning Matthew arrives and Thomas does a bit later.  They both make it in time for Becker.  Thomas tells us he's sketched in this courtroom before so it's not a problem.  There's a bit of bustle in the well of the court.  Each face a character study.  Matt points out to me that Judge Torrealba always has fresh flowers at her bench.   

Sean Carney is here for the people.  Chad Lewin for the defense.  No Frances Young.  Detective Greg Stearns from Robbery Homicide is here; Stearns investigated the case.  He has the same "stern" expression on his face I saw all throughout the Lazarus trial.  The Becker case is up.  Erwin and Carney shake hands and discuss last minute details and identify themselves for the record.  Carney says something I can't believe I've heard.   He tells Judge Torrealba they are "ready" or "close to" discussing a settlement.  I turned to Thomas or Matt and asked them if they heard that.  I'm quite surprised.

Gerhard Becker © Thomas Broersma 2012

Thomas tells me, "Becker, when hearing the word settlement, responded with a "hmph" and a kind of bounce in his whole body."  Judge Torrealba, replied something to the effect, "I heard the magic word..." and that they would follow up with that at the next hearing on May 18th, 2012, where the court clock would be set at 0-45.  The hearing was quickly over.  Becker's 2 mil bond is still in effect.  Carney and Greg Stearns walk out together.  Becker leaves with his companion, and that's it.

Matt, Thomas and I linger around outside the courtroom chatting about the Lazarus case.  It was such a short hearing, it was like a let down.  At the next hearing, it will be interesting to see if Becker does take a plea.

© Thomas Broersma 2012

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Race For Los Angeles County District Attorney

UPDATE: May 9th, 2012
LA Times Opinion Blog by Robert Greene Spotlights Alan Jackson

Two Questions for the Candidates by LA Times Editoral Board
Politics: Bah-humbug!

As a general rule, I do not enjoy politics at all.  When I used to participate on Internet message boards I avoided the political topics like the plague.  I won't discuss the subject at home for more than five minutes (no matter how hard Mr. Sprocket tries) and I beg to have the channel changed when a state's primary results are coming in.  In the 2000 presidential election, Mr. Sprocket and I voted for different candidates and I didn't let him forget it for quite some time afterwards.  In addition, the contributors here at T&T are not all from the same political party and I think the reason we are able to remain friends is...we don't discuss politics.  

So, T&T is out on a limb here with this topic.  I've never covered a political debate or forum and reported on it; it's a totally different animal than sitting in court.  However, I believe in my heart that the race for Los Angeles County District Attorney is an important one that T&T should cover for several reasons.

First, T&T mostly reports on murder cases in the downtown criminal court building that are prosecuted by the LA County District Attorney's office.

Second, Los Angeles County has the largest local prosecutors office, not just in California, but in the entire United States.  There are 88 incorporated cities in Los Angeles County, which covers an area over 4,750 square miles.  The LA County DA's office is considered one of the most powerful prosecutorial offices in California, if not the US. Other prosecuting agencies in California and beyond look to LA County for policy and guidance.  (Second in command, Chief Deputy DA Jackie Lacey stated that the DA's office has received calls regarding policy from the White House at the forum on May 2nd, 2012.

Third, it's been almost fifty years since an incumbent has not been in the race; the current District Attorney, Steve Cooley, is retiring after serving 12 years. The office is literally up for grabs and there are quite a few candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring. 

Last, I've been fortunate enough to get to know on a personal basis one of the candidates in the race and that's Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson, whose career I've followed since 2007.  I feel that's important to get out there that I have a bias.  I can't guarantee that my reporting on this race will be exactly the same as my goal of impartial reporting on a criminal case, since I support this candidate.  However, I can say that I am not being paid by Jackson's campaign or anyone else to write about this race.

Phil Spector Trial, 2007
Who can forget back in 2007 the televised Phil Spector trial?  It was during that trial that I started T&T, a diary, trial by fire if you will and a way to share my personal experiences of attending a high profile case.  That trial was a whirlwind of experiences.  It's where I first met CourtTV's Beth Karas and The Daily Journal's Ciaran McEvoy who both became friends and mentors and continued my friendship with former LA Weekly staff writer Steven Mikulan who I met during the Robert Blake case. It's where I ended up sitting next to Vanity Fair's Dominick Dunne, exchanging notes, having lunch together in the cafeteria and eventually helping him set up bookmarks on his computer in his room at the Chateau Marmont.  We even attended the press staging area together for the jury site visit.  Our courtroom friendship continued beyond the trial until Dominick's death in 2009.

Although I had watched many trials on CourtTV, I had never watched a prosecutor like Jackson before.  He was brilliant. Here is how Dominick described him in the August 2007 issue of Vanity Fair:

"There's a big new star in the Los Angeles district attorney's office, and he's the 42-year-old prosecutor in the trial, Alan Jackson. His opening statement was a work of art.  At an evidentiary hearing, his questioning of the renowned forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee, who became a household name during the O. J. Sompson trial, was tough and courteous.  The guy is so smart and knows the law so well.

"He has TV-star looks, he flies planes, and he used to race cars but gave that up.  He's also single. I had never met him or seen him before the trial, but we talked on the phone about a year ago when I received a five-page, handwritten letter from a star I know, who wishes not to be named, claiming he had been locked up in Spector's house for two days.  She was shy about going to the police, afraid of the publicity.  I called the deputy district attorney, introduced myself, had a nice chat with him, and faxed him a copy of the letter.  He and the star talked.  Every bit of information helps.  Jackson's rise to the top ranks has been fostered by the greatly respected deputy D.A. Pat Dixon, head of the Major Crimes Division, who sits beside him in the courtroom."  (Note: Jackson is no longer single. He's married to DDA Lisa Kassabian. Sprocket)

Although I had attended most of the trial I had never approached Jackson with a question.  Like Dominick, when I first spoke to Jackson it was over the phone, late into the trial in August 2007. I've never blogged about the details as to how Judge Fidler came to give me that public apology on the record, suffice to say that Dominick and Jackson were instrumental in my vindication.

It wasn't until the second Spector trial that I got to know Jackson personally and understand his deep commitment to being a prosecutor and an advocate for crime victims.  There were a few public people who attended the second trial on a regular basis.  Many times before trial would start, Jackson would answer questions from the public in the gallery.  One question I asked him was, would he ever consider going into defense work, stepping across the line to the other side.  With a very serious expression on his face, the force and absoluteness of his one word answer surprised me.  Jackson responded, "Never." I believe Jackson could easily have doubled his salary if he ever decided to leave public office for defense work, but the message was clear.  This was his calling.

The Race Begins
After District Attorney Steve Cooley loses his bid for the California Attorney General's office and announces he will not run for a fourth term, Alan Jackson announces he will run for office on December 6th, 2010.  By January 4th, 2011, Jackson's campaign reports they have collected ".....$113,870 from more than 100 donors and secured well over $200,000 in commitments."  Jackson also accumulates many key endorsements from city leaders and law enforcement agencies.  Other candidates who throw their hat in the ring early are second in command at the DA's office, DDA Jackie Lacey (who wins Steve Cooley's endorsement), DDA Danette Meyers, DDA Bobby Grace, DDA Mario Trujillo, and DDA Marcus Musante.  The big 400 pound gorilla early on in the race was whether or not City Attorney Carmen Trutanich would announce throwing his hat into the ring.  Many sources covering the race (LA Times, LA Weekly and Dragnet) feel Trutanich comes with quite a bit of baggage and is full of broken campaign promises, specifically that he would not seek higher office for two full terms if elected City Attorney.  He's two years into his City Attorney post and he's already bailing on the job.

November 2011"Forum"
The first forum was held on November 3rd, 2011 by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association (APABA) in the beautiful Japanese American National Museum.  The organizers set up 250 seats that were quickly filled with many attendees standing in the back.  Ipsen, Jackson, Grace, Lacey, Meyers and Trujillo were on the podium; Musante was in the audience and Trutanich was a no-show. The LA Weekly reported:

"John Shallman, Trutanich's campaign manager, said that Trutanich did not participate in the debate because "He wasn't invited." But one of the debate organizers, Halim Dhanidina, said he reached out to the Trutanich campaign to ask if the city attorney wanted to participate, and never got a call back."

(Note: As of this date, Ipsen and Trujillo have dropped out. Trujillo is putting his support behind Trutanich. DDA John L. Breault III, has joined the race. Sprocket)

I attended the event with my friend Deidre, who has worked on several political campaigns. It was a packed event.  This was my first opportunity to hear the other candidates and see how they presented themselves and what they had to offer.  There were a few faces that I recognized in the crowd but they were mostly press.  It was obvious after taking in the room that the audience was a sea of DDA's, DPD's and at least one newly appointed judge, Shelly Torrealba.

Naturally, there were quite a few Asian faces in the crowd and about 95% were wearing a suit.  Lots of hand shaking, smiles, meet and greet.  I kept looking at the room.  The ceiling was quite high and the stone walls gorgeous.

I tried to get a sense of the other candidates, but I couldn't believe how bad some of the opening statements were.  Lacey often reminded the crowd of her "decade of experience over this panel" in her administrative position yet she didn't come across as a strong leader and Meyers came across as an angry black woman. (Meyers and Lacey joined the DA's office at the same time, 25 years ago.) Meyers spoke about internal reform within the office as well as how promotions and transfers are made.  I was floored when she said to a crowd filled with prosecutors, "You may not like me, but you will respect me." (It was much later that I learned about the federal lawsuit. I don't believe it's been completely settled yet.)  I noted that of all the candidates, Meyers went over her allotted time to speak the most. Trujillo had the most liberal stance and said he would "Change archaic policies of this office to change public safety." 

Some of the topics the candidates were asked were the three strikes law and how it's applied to juveniles, AB109, the proliferation of the medical marijuana businesses, the death penalty, partnership with the public defenders office, and gang violence.

Here is Dragnet's view on the November forum as well as the LA Weekly, and Metropolitan News-Enterprise.

March 2012 Forum
The second forum Deidre I attended was held on March 31st, 2012 by the Police Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) and the moderator was local CBS reporter Dave Bryan.  Trutanich declined to attend supposedly stating "scheduling conflicts" according to the LA Weekly.  The Weekly article has a good wrap up of the candidate's position on the issues presented to them at this forum.  Dragnet had a different theory why Trutanich missed the debate. It was a much smaller event than the first and only three of the candidates attended: Jackson, Lacey and Meyers.  The two other candidates still in the race (Grace, Breault) were not invited because of low campaign funding.

This was a very civil debate among colleagues.  They candidates all presented themselves better than the first time I saw them.  Lacey spoke better than she did before and although Meyers has toned down her angry black woman demeanor, it's still under the surface.

Jackson's opening statement asked the audience, "You're going to have choice. (snip) Do you want a politician, an administrator or a true prosecutor? (snip) I understand what it means to be District Attorney. I understand what it means to partner with law enforcement. It's why I have the support of more law enforcement (agencies? of) than anyone else at this table."

Again, Lacey stressed her management experience as Chief Deputy DA.  She also gave a bit of her background. "I'm the first in my family to go to college. (snip) I attended Dorsey High School.  (The) Crips & Bloods (were) fighting when I walked to high school. (snip) Twenty-six years ago (I) joined the DA's office (and? the?) life of my dreams." (snip) "I've had a two part career.  For the last eleven years, involved in running programs (for?).... I've inspired people. I'm involved in budget talks (and I have) Steve Cooley's endorsement. He's chosen to endorse me as his successor."

Meyers also spoke about her career in the DA's office. "(I'm) a twenty-six year veteran (of the office?).  I've tried over 200 felony cases, six death penalty cases and supervised two offices: the Belflower Office and the Metropolitan Office.  Then I went to Compton.  I supervised young deputies under me.  (snip) Two times I've been named prosecutor of the year (snip) and served on numerous committees."  Meyers also mentioned her endorsement by prior DA Gil Garcetti, (three mayors?) and two city counsel members.

The candidates were asked what they thought about the "plea deal" with Patrick Lynch over the Coliseum scandal, since some thought that was a mild plea deal

Lacey: "I have been on a leave of absence. (snip) Here's what I'll say.  The media may not be aware of all that goes into these deals.  (DDA) Max Huntsman is not a shrinking violet...."

Meyers: "(I) don't know about the deal. I don't like to second guess (Huntsman). (snip) When things are done (by? public? officials?) there must be fairness. There can't be a presumption of unfairness. I will trust Max. I don't want to second guess him."

Jackson: I echo Danette.  The first priority, is to enhance the Public Integrity Division (of the DA's office).  Public corruption strkes at the very heart of our democracy. It strikes at the heart of the trust between the public and the people in authority.  I would never second guess Max Huntsman without the benefit of seeing the file or interviewing a single witness.  We need to trust (that the DA's) office acted in the best interests (of the public?)."

 The rest of the topics were similar to topics discussed at the previous forum. 

May 2012 Forum
This event was hosted by the Los Angeles Times at 11:00 am on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012.  The candidates were given up to fifteen seats to invite supporters to the event.  I don't believe the event was open to the general public.  Five of the six candidates attended.  Trutanich and DDA's Lacey, Meyers, Jackson, and John Breault.  DDA Bobby Grace is in trial and could not attend.  Grace had a statement prepared that was read by the moderator, LA Times Editor at Large, Jim Newton. "It's with great regret I will not be able to attend....(snip) currently in trial... (snip) Thank you for drawing attention to this important race."  The moderator stated this was a forum and not a formal debate.  They would not keep a strict clock.

As my friend Deidre and I take our seats, we noted that directly in front of us was Collene (Thompson) Campbell, sister of murdered race car driver, Mickey Thompson.

One of the first questions was directed at Trutanich.  "What brings you here today?"  Trutanich responded, "....(I?) came when (?) felt it was appropriate.  I feel now is the time to get our message out. (snip) LA Times (?) responsible organization. Thank you for putting this (event?) on... (snip) Given the stature of the host, .... appropriate to open my campaign..."  

(Does that mean that every prior forum was insignificant, or is it that Trutanich knew he couldn't pass on this event if he was looking to get the LA Times endorsement. Sprocket.)

Meyers was confronted on a statement she recently made at a DA forum sponsored by the Democratic Club of Santa Clarita Valley that was also attended by Republican candidate DDA John Breault.

“There may be some good Republicans out there. I like John a lot. But as my philosophy is, even the best Republican doesn’t beat the worst Democrat,” said Meyers.

Meyers countered she wasn't quoted exactly.  "The best Republican can't be better on the issues (than?) the worst Democrat. (snip) Our issues are very different."

Lacey: "What does it mean to be a Republican?  Same as a Democrat.  It's a non-partisan race."

Jackson: "This is a prosecutors office. It's not a politician's office. We have a (wish?) to uphold and enhance public safety. (snip)  The face of the DA's office... (snip) (if?) given the leadership... (I will?) do it in a non-partisan, non-political way.  We can't afford to politicize this office."

Jackson also informed the room that more rank and file police offices are endorsing him than any other candidate.  "They know the DA's office.  They know what it is to do the job.  They work more closely with the DA's office than any other agency in the county. They are telling the public who we want to lead the office for public safety."

Lacey informs the crowd why she is more suited to follow in Cooley's footsteps.  "Most people have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. For twelve years I've made decisions on death cases (of if its?) jailhouse informants.... What I will say is, you need that seasoned (experience?) to lead the office over the next 12 years."  Lacey also stated she regards her colleagues with high esteem many of whom she's supervised, but the office requires a difficult skill-set.

Meyers states that Steve Cooley didn't have those skill sets before he became District Attorney.  Trutanich didn't manage others (when he became City Attorney). Meyers mentions the Tyquan Knox case and that she's a leader.  She's a former LA County Bar Association President.  "If my peers didn't think I could lead, I would not have been appointed."

Trutanich states, "Running a government agency is a talent."  He asserts he can run a budget and a payroll.  He talks about how he has managed the City Attorney's Office and came in under budget.  "We took on gangs. We took on banks."  I believe he said something to the effect that (no one on the podium?) tried a case while managing an office. (snip) You have to look at the track record to lead."  Newton asks Trutanich, "You didn't have that experience before (elected)."  Trutanich responds, "I had twenty years running an office before."  Trutanich goes onto say "Running a company and running a government (office?) is financial.... (snip) We've saved over (20 million?) in civil suits (by using) mock trials. (snip) We've tried more cases than any other City Attorney.

The candidates are asked to describe their vision for the DA's Offie.

Breault: "My policy and role ad DA will be the same as any other citizens: advocate at Sacramento for policies and things (you? we?) want (modified?); laws changed.

Jackson: "I respectfully disagree with his philosophy. (We are not the same as the other 58 counties?)  This is the largest District Attorney's office, not just in the state, but in the entire country.  I think the weight of this office brings it's... (snip)  This is an office that will have an impact state wide, not just county wide.  (Cooley's?) three strikes law has become a product of (the state?).  To say we are one of many voices is untrue."  Jackson's policy approach is balance.  We're not going to prosecute our way out (of the current problems?) ... (we need a?) compassionate view towards rehab.  We will have an impact on rehabilitation.  We will have an impact on education."

Lacey: "The DA's office, we are involved in so many issues.  2,200 employees.  The City Attorney won so many cases (because?) smaller divisions (and mostly handled?) misdemeanors.  (snip) Our office will get calls from the White House on policy. We have the ability to change the case of criminal justice.  It is much more than putting people in jail.  It's not the same as volunteering for the Bar Association."

Meyers: "The justice system is not just the same as... (snip) I understand civil justice." I believe Meyers says, "If we do not have criminal justice we won't have civil justice."  Meyers also states, " think the DA's Office has a broader role.  I've supervised two offices. (snip) The death penalty is not working.  Governor Brown wants to do away with monitoring the juvenile justice system. (snip)  (People are) looking for uniformity in justice throughout the state."

Trutanich:  I don't get the first part of his statement.  I believe Trutanich states, "Think of (this as?) interesting times; (we are?) being challenged via an economic crisis.... (snip).... those in government are going to have to do more with less. (snip) (9.6 million?) housing in prison. That philosophy is broken.  (snip) The next twelve years (need to?) focus on prevention.  Take high school, keep student in school. Teach life skills. Show them the value of not joining gangs or doing drugs."  Trutanich mentions realignment in the Sheriff's Office, the merit program.  "There are ways to drop recidivism. How to we accomplish more for less.  Misdemeanors in Los Angeles County would be a felony in any other state. (Is that true across all 50 states?  What is he talking about? Sprocket.)  (snip) Pedophile predators on Facebook."  Trutanich then mentions his volunteer reserve deputy program he instituted at the City Attorney's office and how that program costs taxpayers nothing.

The candidates are asked about an initiative on the ballot to do away with the death penalty and if they would support that measure.

Trutanich: "I've argued for the death penalty. I didn't put that person on death row." Trutanich mentions President Clinton, and that the death penalty should be reserved for only the most severe cases. "It is a ballot measure. I don't know if I can support (it) today.  I would vote against.  (It) should be kept for only the most heinous and (where the) evidence (is) so overwhelming (towards guilt). (I) would not got one way or another to support (it)."

Newton presses Trutanich further asking, "If you have strong feelings, why not make then known?"  Turtanich responds, "At this point, I won't support the measure. (snip) I don't think we should make (the race for the) DA's office into a decision of the death penalty."

Meyers: "We should be truthful and realistic about the death penalty."  Meyers would vote for the measure. Meyers mentions the (John?) Heard case, where she had to retry the penalty portion of that case.  "There are over 700 inmates on death row to date. How many executed in the last year? Twenty years of appeals is too long.  The initiative (on the ballot) allows for thirty million to law enforcement to solve crimes, murders, that have not been solved." Meyers will be voting yes on the ballot.

Lacey:  "Since we're being honest, (snip) it's interesting what a candidate says and then they run... Trutanich doesn't sound sure of what he wants to do.  The death penalty is an important tool... (snip) There are plenty of controls in place to get to the death penalty.  Levels withing the DA's office have to agree.  Twelve people (jurors) have to agree.  (snip) (The real issue?) is how to get through the red tape of appeals."

Jackson: "I do believe it serves an important purpose.  I would not support the initiative.  (snip) I'm not a death penalty advocate.(snip)Voters have been asked over and over and they have supported the death penalty.  I have sat on (the) committee that determines the appropriateness of the death penalty (for defendants).  We prosecute 60,000 (defendants) per year. Of those 60,000 about 75 cases per year are considered for  the death penalty.  Of those, seven to eleven percent, depending on the year (the death penalty is sought).  There are certain crimes that cut so deeply into the fabric of our community." Jackson then mentions some of those crimes. Killing a cop, a witness, preying on and murdering children.  "It should be an option.  As DA, I will make sure that option is available (and) used only in cases (that the) office uniformly applies.  I agree with Jackie. The appeal process is broken, but it can be fixed."

Breault: "I also believe in the death penalty and would not support the initiative.  (snip)  For the death penalty to be effective, it should be swift and immediate.  There's nothing wrong with the death penalty.  (It gives discretion to the DA so we can decide and choose when necessary.  I agree with Alan Jackson.  Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Meyers: "Of the twenty-two special circumstances that we have... (snip) I disagree that the appellate process can be reformed."  Meyers mentions John Van de Camp who (I believe, did a study of the process) stated the best we can do is trim the appellate process down ten years. "That's still too long.  The Tyquan Knox jurors wanted to know why the DA's office didn't (seek death)."

Trutanich: (My notes on this answer are not clear.) Trutanich addresses an issue Meyers brought up about the death penalty.  He mentions that he ran an office and then I believe my notes state that the Governor of the State, Brown has endorsed him (but I don't know if that's correct or not).  Trutanich would work to making the death penalty less costly. Also agrees that they shouldn't throw out the baby with the bath water.

The candidates are asked about transparency and making more information available to the public.

Trutanich states his office recently went through (this issue?) with the Fire Department and whether they chose to follow or not follow (the recommendations).  "Our office policy is one of transparency."

Meyers states she believes the DA's office should be as transparent as possible, where it doesn't violate the law.

Lacey challenges Trutanich on the Fire Department issue and that being ".... one whole mess. The Mayor criticized the legal advice from the City Attorney's office. (snip) What you will not have is someone who plays games.

Jackson said, "My answer is yes.  (I) would be more transparent than the current administration.  I hold that trust for the public. (snip) I will favor making it as transparent (as possible) as long as the law allows it.  As long as it doesn't impact (ongoing investigations?).  This office belongs to the community at large."

Trutanich interjects, "The (Fire Dept.) issue was not response times. It was HIPPA."  As DA, Trutanich would plan on being as transparent as possible (just like the City Attorney's office).

Newton read Trutanich a question from the crowd. "If you win, how soon will you start running for California Attorney General?" Trutanich responded with this single line.

I believe the candidates were asked, "Does the DA's office need a clean sweep?"

Meyers: Members of the DA's office support her.  "I think the office needs changes. (snip) Someone who is not vindictive.  We are defending a lawsuit right now, (the?) office (is?) in a federal lawsuit. (snip) We are being sued for retaliatory conduct. (snip) There should be policy for transfers.  There should be a policy for promotions.  I have the support of 26,000 members of the California Bar Association. I've handled budgets.  They saw that and they endorse me."

Lacey: "No. (It's a large office.) They're lawyers. There's always going to be disagreements.  I'm looking forward to working with other organizations that don't often get mentioned. (snip) No one is going to be able to get along with all member of the office."

Jackson: "I think the office needs to be modernized, through the Justice System Integrity Division and High Tech Crimes Dividion (departments).  These are the (philosophies?) policy that should be embraced before we go forward.  We are not going to handcuff our way out of the problems... (snip) I spent five years in Compton.  I never saw a ten-year-old boy say, I want to grow up to be a gang member...but who went home and felt that they don't have (any choices?).  The office needs to be modernized."

Breault: I'm against a "clean sweep."  I've got 43 years in the DA's office, (back before?) Van de Camp.  (Younger?) gave direction to the office but that was a guideline.  (I stopped writing for a moment. It started to sound like Breault went off on a tangent. Sprocket.)  The office is good. We do a good job on our cases.  Why sweep (the?) out?"

Trutanich: When I took office on July 9th, 2009, I inherited a (fractured?) office.  We faced (a) 2 million dollar shortfall.  My job is different than anyone else at the table because I defend the City of Los Angeles when sued."  Trutanich speaks about the reserve program again that he implemented. "I haven't been sued by any one of my employees. Not one person in three years has lost their job or laid off and we've had a 16 million dollar shortfall. (snip) What the DA's office needs is outside eyes and to look at (the?) issue(s?) freshly, differently, and that's what we need now.

Trutanich's statement ended the forum.  I was disappointed that several candidates brought politics into a race that I don't believe should be political at all.  It's supposed to be a non-partisan race.  It's my understanding that the candidate's particular political affiliation is not listed on the ballot.   I believe people should be voting for a candidate's worthiness for the office and not a particular party.

The next debate is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 from 7:30 to 9:30 PM. It's sponsored by the Government Affairs Counsel of the Century City Chamber of Commerce and the Century City Bar Association.  Chamber and CCBA $20.00; Non-members $30.00; at door $40.00.

I am still waiting on some video from the event as well as audio to provide a complete recording of the candidates statements.

LA Times Article
LA Times real-time blogger on the event
Dragnet's take on the forum
Local CBS News Report & Video