Thursday, April 18, 2019

Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part IX, 4/18/85)


Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part IX, 4/18/85)

In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in her Van Nuys home.

23 years later, in 2009, LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus was arrested for the crime. Lazarus was convicted of first degree murder in 2012, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

Early in her LAPD career, Stephanie kept a diary of her daily patrol rounds.

This diary entry is from April 18, 1985, 34 years ago today. 

At the time, Stephanie was a patrol officer assigned to the LAPD’s Deonshire Division.

0730 - 1615 (1545)


No roll call, it was work out day. This was my first day out in the field. I worked with John M---, a P 3+1. Real nice guy. We worked the Northridge Mall Z Car. The Z Car is an extra car, receives no radio calls. We basically patrolled the Mall (inside) and Parking Lot (outside).

First thing out of the Station, we did stop for coffee at Foster’s on Reseda.

Then we checked out Bryant and Vanalden. This is the area for selling Heroin. It looks worse than Leland / McCadden and St. Andrews and Marathon in Hollywood.

Then we checked out the parking lot in the Mall. We made a lot of high school students who weren’t 18 go back to school and not go into the Mall. Most of the kids say they're 18 but they're not.

Then we walked around the Mall, keeping an eye out for the opening of the jewelry stores. John knows everyone in the Mall which is neat.

At about 1130 John had to go to a special lunch for a special award. I went to Fuddrucker’s and met another unit that was already there. It was 2 guys that I don’t really know. But they were somewhat nice. I could tell not real thrilled. This place went 1/2.

After lunch I was leaving the lot and I saw John Ruetten’s car. Just my luck. I put a note on it and watched the car for 1/2 hour and checked up on it a few times. Well I find out from him later that he had gotten into Fuddrucker’s at about 1210. Just about 5 minutes before I left.

Then I patrolled the mall a bit. Some girls stopped me to tell me that they saw this lady beating her child. I went and checked it out. A lady was really upset but it didn’t look like she had beaten her child.

Then I picked John up at the Sub Station in the Mall and we patrolled around and walked in the Mall before End of Watch which was about 1540.

Heissel today said something about my tan. I said, Yeah, I was wearing my bikini at the run. She said, Yeah, I heard. I couldn’t imagine what was said.

My friend Matthew McGough's book, The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation, will be released on April 30, 2019. You can pre-order his book on Amazon HERE.

The previous diary entry can be found HERE.
The next diary entry can be found HERE.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part VIII, 4/16/86


Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part VIII, 4/16/1986)

In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in her Van Nuys home.

23 years later, in 2009, LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus was arrested for the crime. Lazarus was convicted of first degree murder in 2012, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

Early in her LAPD career, Stephanie kept a diary of her daily patrol rounds.

This diary entry is from April 16, 1986, about seven weeks after Sherri's murder.

 At the time, Stephanie was a patrol officer assigned to the LAPD’s Devonshire Division.

0730 – 1615 (1545)

I had to go to loan to North Hollywood. They had a training day. I got to work w/ Scotty which was ok. At least I knew him. I drove. We didn’t do a thing all day. I think we had 3 radio calls.

I drove around the North Hwd Hills because I like to look at the large houses. We took a Code 30 in the Hills off of Dona Pegita. We checked the house, nothing, then the woman came home. She had a lovely house and her husband had just died. She was nice though I felt sorry for her. Scotty was looking for an old Stove. So we looked at used appliance stores.

Then we ate at the Sea Food Broiler. They didn’t go 1⁄2 or anything but I had crab. It cost 10.95 but I didn’t care.

The only other call we got was a child abuse. Well lucky for us it was only a DPSS social worker checking on a child that might have been abused by her mother, a broken finger. The mother was 21 yrs old and didn’t seemed to concerned, but the DPSS worker didn’t take the child because the people the child was staying w/ promised to take the child to the hosp.

We did have a call in Van Nuys – family dispute. The wife was bothering the husband, but she had left. The man was really sleazy and the house had about 6 cars in the front yard.

We stopped for Baskin Robbins ice cream on Victory / Fulton. Surprisingly enough it was free.

H--- was nice and picked up my dishwasher and delivered it to my house.

My friend Matthew McGough's book, The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation, will be released on April 30, 2019. You can pre-order his book on Amazon HERE.

The previous diary entry can be found HERE.
The next diary entry can be found HERE.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part VII, 4/15/86)


Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part VII, 4/15/1986)

In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in her Van Nuys home.

23 years later, in 2009, LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus was arrested for the crime. Lazarus was convicted of first degree murder in 2012, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

Early in her LAPD career, Stephanie kept a diary of her daily patrol rounds.

This diary entry is from April 15, 1986, seven weeks after Sherri's murder.

 At the time, Stephanie was a patrol officer assigned to the LAPD’s Devonshire Division.

0730 - 1615


We played basketball for work out day. I worked by myself. I wrote a ticket at Louise / Prairie. The woman ran the stop sign. Of course she said she stopped. All she could do was argue.

Then I had to go to the Station. I had to take Capt Fried to Marilla and Lasaine for a Earth Quake Drill that was put on by Hal Bernson’s office. This was Earthquake Awareness Week. It was I guess a privilege to drive the Capt around. The earthquake drill was interesting. They used citizens and had them made up with wounds and simulated what a rescue team would do if a real earthquake occurred. I did this from about 0915 to 1100. Then I drove around. I went and bought my dishwasher.

Then I got a call Tampa / 118 FWY. There was a TA. I took all the info and got a traffic car. Party 1 ran a stop light on the offramp and ran into this woman. Party 1 he worked at Rockwell, real nerd, didn’t even know what happened. Then I waited for C-7 to go w/ H---. Well I had to pick up Schuster at the Station. I wasn’t too happy. Dr. Schuster is OK but he likes to butt into the conversation and the work, like he knows it all.

I didn’t do anything for about 1 1/2 after lunch w/ him.

My friend Matthew McGough's book, The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation, will be released on April 30, 2019. You can pre-order his book on Amazon HERE.

The previous diary entry can be found HERE.
The next diary entry can be found HERE.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Jennifer Francis v. City of Los Angeles (LAPD) Verdict

Stanley Mosk Courthouse, downtown Los Angeles
April 5, 2019
I arrived on the 5th floor of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse a little before 10am. I was late to court. I had gotten all the way to the bus station when I realized I didn't have my Metro tap card or credit card. I had left them in the pocket of the jacket I had worn yesterday.

Jennifer Francis's counsel were in the hallway as well as two of the alternate jurors. A little farther away down the hall were a group of attorneys from the LAPD's Legal Affairs Office. They had been in the courtroom for the past week.  Defense counsel Reginald Roberts, along with Deputy City Attorney Karen Park, have stayed inside the courtroom waiting on deliberations.

I started reading the web and got lost for a bit. The next time I looked up, there were several jurors in the hallway and John Taylor was headed into the courtroom. Not long after, a new courtroom assistant was hanging a sign on the outside of Dept 56 that said, "Jurors wait in the hallway until called." I was guessing that the jurors were either on a break or they had a question.

The verdict form has eight questions the jurors, depending on their answers along the way will answer. Here is verdict form question number 1:

My friend Matthew McGough arrives and we find out that the jury had a question that was answered. Here is the first  question from the jurors.

The answer that was sent back to the jurors is "No."

Everyone's now back inside the courtroom. The courtroom assistant, a man I've never seen before, is telling the clerk at the desk that the jurors need five sheets of paper. They have five questions.

Another buzz from the jury. The courtroom attendant enters the jury room. A file folder is brought out. The attendant makes copies and walks the papers into Judge Fujie's chambers. They have their second question.

Mr. Roberts states, "I thought there were five questions. The attendant replies, "maybe expect four more buzzes. Ms. Park shows me the jurors question on her phone. I don't write it all down quickly enough.

Judge Fjuie comes out from her chambers for a moment. Plaintiff's counsel John Taylor and Matthew McNicholas leave, then come back.

Judge Fujie is on the bench. She reads out loud for the record the second question from the jury.

The jurors continue deliberating while counsel argue to the court what the answer should be.

I have in my notes this comment, but I'm not certain if it's the court, the Defense or Plaintiff's counsel who said it. It is not what is in her mind ... It is up to the jury to determine if the content of the disclosure is a violation of state or federal law. It's possible this is what the court said.

Counsel for the Defendant, the City of LA, argue the answer should be "Yes." Counsel for the Plaintiff, Jennifer, argue the answer should be "No."

And back and forth it goes. Like I've seen many times during this trial, the court is indecisive and waffles back and forth on the record. At first, Judge Fujie appears to side with the Plaintiff. The court and Defense argue back and forth about what the prior case law has interpreted this issue.

I believe it's defense counsel who states, something to the effect of ... [it's the] Plaintiff's burden to establish ... accessory to murder. In the discussion, It appears to me the court cannot decide on how to answer the question. Judge Fujie states, in reference to question #1, "It's confusing."

Ms. Park and Mr. Roberts discuss the issue between themselves.

Judge Fujie muses, "I'm looking at .. is whether if what Ms. Francis disclosed ... if they ... true or if ... would have been [against?] a state or federal law."

Both sides of the aisle just want either a yes or no answer to the jury. Judge Fujie decides to draft her own answer for the jury.  The court tries to craft something out loud. "Is it up to the jury to decide ... if what the plaintiff disclosed ... potentially is a [violation] of State or Federal law?"

I believe it's the Defense who states, "The instruction does not say potential." Mr. Roberts has serious objections to the instruction. John Taylor speaks, and it appears everyone is talking at once. Judge Fujie, appearing exasperated addresses counsel, "Please stop talking."

Judge Fujie goes back into chambers and drafts her own answer to the jury and comes back out with it. Defense counsel agree with the instruction. Plaintiff's counsel is still considering it at the start of the lunch hour.

The lunch hour is called and I have to leave for a special dental appointment I've been waiting months to get. I could not have rescheduled it. It was set months ago. I cannot stay to see if the Plaintiff's counsel agrees with the court's language in the answer to the jurors' question #2. I tell Matthew he's on his own if a verdict comes in while I'm gone.

I take the Expo Line train down to the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at USC.

I'm sitting in the dental chair, waiting for the professor to stop by when I get this text from Matthew around 2:08 pm: "Jen lost - 12-0 on question #1." Matthew tells me that Jennifer left the courtroom before the jury was polled.

My heart sinks for Jennifer.

This is the answer the court crafted for the jurors to their second question.

It is up to the jury to determine if the contents of the disclosure, if true, violated state or federal law. - Jury Rejects LAPD Criminalist's Whistleblower Case
LA Times - Jury Sides With City in Retaliation Lawsuit

Friday, April 5, 2019

Jennifer Francis v. City of Los Angeles (LAPD) Verdict Watch, Day 1

 Stanley Mosk Courthouse, downtown Los Angeles

UPDATE 4/16:
Corrected the spelling of Detective Shepard's last name. Sprocket
I've made a correction to the section on defense counsel's closing statement, regarding what John Ruetten told detectives in 1986. In my original post, I did not say or intend to say that defense counsel Reginald Roberts intentionally misled the jury, only that he had misstated what John Ruetten told detectives in 1986. The corrected text below is based on actual transcripts and official records, some of them dating back to 1986. Sprocket
UPDATED 4/5: Adding Jeff Thompson's title, Asst. Lab Director. Sprocket
April 4, 2019
Closing arguments were presented to the jury today.

[Note: What follows is a very short summary of closing arguments. I will have a more comprehensive report when I publish my daily notes. Sprocket.]

In the morning session, the jurors heard closing arguments from both parties. The plaintiff's attorney John Taylor went first. Much of Taylor's closing argument was reviewing with the jury defense counsel Reginald Roberts opening statements and characterizing many of the statements as misleading or outright wrong.There are quite a few statements that Taylor goes over with the jury.

John Taylor told the jury of the many people that Francis told about what Cold Case Detective Cliff Shepard said to her in 2005, that John Ruetten's ex-girlfriend, a detective, didn't murder Sherri Rasmussen. She was cleared. Those people included, in order of who she went to, [then] DDA Shelly Torrealba, Detective Greg Stearns, Harry Klann, Jeff Thompson (Assistant Lab Director), Detective Dan Jaramillo, Detective Debra Winter and finally the Office of the Inspector General.

[Note: When Francis went to the Inspector General, that notification finally triggered an Internal Affairs investigation. Sprocket]

John Taylor told the jury that Jeffrey Thompson, a supervisor in SID (Science Investigation Division) admitted on the stand he ordered Jennifer Francis to Behavioral Sciences Section (BSS) for psychological counseling without the approval or review by the commander of SID.

Taylor reminded the jurors of DDA Beth Silverman's testimony where she indicated she had heard from other Deputy DA's in her office, negative comments about Jennifer's ability to be a team player and that she wanted to lead investigations. Taylor told the jury about DDA Silverman's testimony regarding the DA's office "Brady" database, where, any accusation or complaint about police officers is kept and could potentially be turned over to the defense as part of discovery in a criminal case.

In his closing, Taylor told the jurors that the LAPD's decision to send Jennifer to BSS was retaliation and caused her emotional pain and suffering. Taylor pointed out that Jennifer's reputation suffered with the DA's office.

[Note: Jeff Thompson in his deposition, stated that DDA Beth Silverman told him she did not want Jennifer Francis doing any DNA analysis on the Grim Sleeper serial killer case she was prosecuting. That DDA Silverman told him that Francis would be defense witness number one. Sprocket]

Based on Jennifer's estimated lifespan of 83 years, Taylor recommended the following compensation for Francis. For the age period of age 50 to 60 years, she should be compensated somewhere between $875,000 to $1.2 million, per year.  Taylor then recommended another amount, over $500,000 per year for the age years from 60 to 83.

Taylor spoke for approximately an hour. The jurors were given a break and then defense attorney Reginald Roberts started his closing argument right before 11am.

Roberts started off by talking about his biggest fear as a lawyer was getting some fact wrong for his client. He then directs the jurors to focus in on one of the instructions the jurors were given, the Casey instruction 0329.

[Note: I believe I have that correct in my notes. Sprocket]

Roberts then went through several sections of Detective James Nuttall's testimony and interpreting it for the jury.

Roberts stated that all the evidence the Plaintiff told them referencing the murder of Sherri Rasmussen, going back 33 years, "... that's a distraction. ... This case is about 2004 to now."  Roberts told the jurors that Francis was one of several criminalists who worked on the case, she wasn't the only one. He stated that the LAPD Detectives "stuck with the case over time ... [and] got the right person [Lazarus]."

Roberts mentions the commemorative award Francis received for her work on the case. "You don't retaliate by giving [the] highest award. This was a public honor for a team [effort]."

Roberts tells the jury a "... homicide team ...  worked to put Lazarus in prison." Roberts lists on the screen the many names of detectives, Deputy District Attorneys and criminalists who worked on the Lazarus case. "Jennifer is the only one who claims retaliation."

As Roberts speaks to the jury, he paces a bit and waves his arms around a lot. He tells the story of watching [I believe] a golf tournament or golfer on TV with his young 4 year old son, and that his son when asked the golfer's name, said Lion instead of Tiger [Woods].

Roberts stated "... Plaintiff never disclosed a crime ... [plaintiff] complained about the way Detective Shepard conducted the investigation not that [misconduct?] was done."


Roberts tells the jury, "John Ruetten was interviewed. And he was crying when he was telling the detective, Detective Mayer way back when, 'I don't have any problems with an ex-police officer girlfriend.' He told the detetives back in '86, 'I don't have a problem with anyone else.'"

[Note: During Roberts examination of Detective James Nuttall on 3/18/19, Roberts asked the following question:

Roberts: So was it your understanding that he was crying when he was telling the detective, no, I don't have any problems with an ex police-officer girlfriend?
Nuttall: That's correct, sir.

Here is what John Ruetten told Detective Lyle Mayer in their interview on 2/24/86, the night of the murder:

Mayer: You were not having any family problems, or marital problems, or anything?
Ruetten: We were having the best time. We just got married.
Mayer: No financial problems? She's not having any problems with an  ex-boyfriend? Or you with an ex-girlfriend?

Ruetten: No.

During the crime scene walkthrough the following morning, 2/25/86, John Ruetten gave Detective Mayer Stephanie Lazarus's name and informed him that she was a police officer. There's no evidence that John in 1986 ever described Stephanie Lazarus to Mayer as a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend.

EDITOR'S NOTE: T&T is always happy to make a correction, if warranted, upon request. Sprocket]

Roberts tells the jury that after Francis developed the female profile, the Rasmussen murder fell into the lowest classification tier [#4] of cases to work within the Cold Case Unit and that Detective Shepard was "very busy."

Cold Case Unit Classification Level [Highest to lowest priority]
1. DNA hit [connected] to an specific person who is free [not in custody].
2. DNA hit to a specific person who is in custody.
3. DNA hit case to case but no specific person known.
4. No DNA hit to a known suspect.

Roberts tells the jurors that Jeff Thompson in his testimony said Francis "... didn't have a single bit of evidence Cliff Shepard [had] committed a crime."

Roberts tells the jurors that the Cold Case Unit's working conditions were so cramped that when Detective Shepard worked on a case, he had to run over to a storage unit to get a file and run back. Detective Shepard had over 100 cases on his plate, including serial killers.

[Note: It is my memory that I heard Detective Shepard testify earlier in this trial that when he was moved to the Grim Sleeper Task Force, the Rasmussen murder book was locked in a file cabinet behind his desk. Sprocket]

Roberts mentions again that Detective Nuttall never picked up the phone to call Detective Shepard.

Roberts tells the jury that when Detective Nuttall started looking into one of their own for the murder of Sherri Rasmussen, "... he didn't get any push back..." [from his superiors]. Roberts states that the Van Nuys unit kept the investigation under wraps because they knew Stephanie's husband also worked in the same building as them.

Roberts arms are flailing around as he talks to the jury. Roberts then talks about the Lazarus arrest.

Roberts tells the jury that the Plaintiff never told anyone or used the words "cover up" that it was her own counsel, a different counsel than the firm representing her now, who was with her during her interview by the Internal Affairs investigator who used that term. Roberts goes over the various people Francis told about Detective Shepard's statements and that every time she was asked if she was reporting misconduct by Shepard and Francis said no, that she was not making an accusation of misconduct. Like he did in his opening statement, Roberts plays portions of Jennifer's taped deposition for the jury answering these questions.

Roberts claims that the LAPD did not retaliate against Francis. She was not demoted and she did not lose any pay, so there was no retaliation. After the Lazarus trial Jennifer's supervisors gave her higher performance evaluations and she received a commendation. Roberts claims that Francis continued to testify in court on DUI toxicology cases.

Roberts tells the jury that after the Internal Affairs investigation, "... Plaintiff didn't like the outcome ... so we're here." Roberts tells the jury, Francis was "... sent to BSS although she was also under her own therapy at the same time."

[Note: This is not an accurate statement. Francis did not seek her own psychological counseling until after she was ordered to BSS. Sprocket]

Roberts then brings up things in Francis's personal life that she talked about with her own therapist. These are the same things Roberts mentioned in his opening statement, such as her father was dying of cancer during the same time frame. Roberts tells the jury her therapist testified "... she had a lot of problems going on ... these can be an extreme emotional mental burden ..."

[Note: Some of the things that Roberts tells the jury that Jennifer spoke in confidence to her therapist about I will not repeat here. It is my own personal opinion this information is private and would re-victimize Jennifer. Sprocket.]

Roberts tells the jury "... she was dealing with all [this] family stuff [during] the same time frame ... we [LAPD] didn't cause any of those personal things ..."

In closing, Roberts goes over the eight questions on the verdict form that the jurors need to fill out and how he feels they should answer each question.

Roberts finishes his closing about six minutes into the lunch hour. He apologizes to the jurors for taking up some of their lunch time.

Judge Fujie then asks the jurors if they would like to go to lunch now or listen to the Plaintiff's rebuttal arguments before they go to lunch. The jurors say they would like to listen to the rebuttal arguments before they go to lunch.

John Taylor presents his rebuttal arguments. Taylor tells the jury again that defense counsel misled them and cherry picked out information. He talks about psychosomatic symptoms and that they are not all in Jennifer's head.

Taylor brings up Harry Klann's deposition [Jennifer's immediate supervisor at the time] where he adamantly states he did not believe what Jennifer told him about Detective Shepard, a homicide detective, possibly covering up a murder. 

Taylor tells the jury, "Not one LAPD person, ... did you see one [person] who cared about Jennifer Francis."

Taylor talks about the LAPD being incapable of policing themselves. They [LAPD] want to know if they got away with it again. Taylor says, "You get to see how the LAPD treats one of their own ..."

Taylor tells the jury that the damages numbers he recommended to them "... those [numbers] are low. ... They know it. ... If [you come back with a number any lower] ... they [LAPD] will be clinking champagne glasses ..."

Taylor concludes his rebuttal argument around 12:20pm Juge Fujie then tells the jurors to return to the courtroom at 2pm. She tells them, "I bought you snacks [that are] in the jury room. No court funds were used." She says this is her gift to them.

3:39 PM
Some jurors exit the courtroom for a break.

3:49 PM
Jurors start to file back into the courtroom.

4:31 PM
No verdict today. Deliberations continue tomorrow at 9:30am.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Q&A With Matthew McGough Author of The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation

UPDATE 12:20pm: Corrected for spelling. Sprocket
My friend Matthew McGough did a Q&A with journalist Elon Green, which was just published in MEL Magazine.

Matthew's book also recently received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Having read the book, I wholeheartedly agree with Publishers Weekly: "This memorable and powerful work deserves a wide readership."

I've been very fortunate to travel along with Matthew for most of his journey in chronicling the Lazarus case and its aftermath. I first got to know Matthew during the Lazarus trial seven years ago. We were the only two reporters who attended every day of the trial. It's been a blast to be back in the trenches with him the last few weeks for the trial in the case of Francis v. City of LA. Matthew has been a true friend and mentor to me.

A special thank you to Linda Zaleskie of CNN for treating me and Matthew to lunch the last couple days.

I've heard people have been waiting for updates on the trial. I have been working on my daily recaps so please stay tuned. Today is a big day. The jury will hear closing arguments sometime after 9:30am.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Explosive Accusation by DDA Beth Silverman, Moments After Testifying in Francis v. City of LA (LAPD)

Stanley Mosk Courthouse

March 29, 2019
Today’s most dramatic moment came in the afternoon session. This morning, if someone had told me that this event happened without witnessing it myself, I never would have believed them.

DDA Beth Silverman was called to the stand by the defense to testify why she did not want Criminalist Jennifer Francis assigned to the Grim Sleeper case in 2010, after Lonnie Franklin was arrested. Francis had performed some DNA analysis on that case.

Moments after stepping down from the witness stand, DDA Silverman went out into the hallway, then came back inside and announced loudly to everyone in the court room, in front of the jury, “I am being attacked by co-counsel in the hallway.” DDA Silverman asked for an escort to the escalators to get out of the building.

The disruption threw the courtroom into a tizzy. Defense counsel Reginald Roberts exited the courtroom, came right back, and complained aloud, “Courtney McNicholas.” All three defense attorneys condemned McNicholas’s conduct, based solely on DDA Silverman’s outburst.

 Although no one in the courtroom witnessed the incident, Judge Fujie also immediately condemned McNicholas and called her behavior in the hallway “appalling.” Judge Fujie did not question any witnesses about what had happened outside the courtroom. Defense counsel then demanded that McNicholas be barred from the courtroom for the duration of the trial. Judge Fujie promptly agreed.

All of this played out in front of the jury.

Eyewitnesses interviewed by T&T reported that there was no physical altercation between McNicholas and DDA Silverman. All the eyewitnesses reported that McNicholas and DDA Silverman were angry and exchanged words, after which McNicholas walked away and sat on a bench.

T&T has reached out to both parties for comment.

In other Francis trial news, LA Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian, who has dropped in occasionally on the trial, has a story about Dorothy Tucker, the LAPD BSS psychologist who Francis was ordered to see. 

I’ve been attending most of the trial and hope to catch up on my daily recaps soon.

Additional reporting by Matthew McGough.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Jennifer Francis v The City of Los Angeles (LAPD) Day 2

Jennifer Francis testifying at Lazarus' trial, Feb. 2012;
Nels & Loretta Rasmussen in the gallery.
© 2012 by Thomas Broersma ( 
All rights reserved by the artist.

UPDATE 3/28 10:00pm: Short update to voir dire on this date, see below. Sprocket
UPDATE 3/28: I forgot to mention that my trial friend Matthew McGough has been attending every day of the trial and many of the pretrial hearings. Sprocket.
March 12, 2019 Note: Jury selection did not start in this case until March 12. The parties dealt with pretrial issues and some jury instructions on March 11. Sprocket


Jennifer Francis is a DNA analyst currently employed with the LAPD's Forensic Science
Division (previously called Science Investigation Division or, SID). She is a civilian employee and not a sworn officer.

Sometime before 2004, LAPD Cold Case Detective Cliff Shepard submitted the February 1986 murder of Sherri Rasmussen to SID for DNA analysis in the hopes that a DNA profile of a suspect could be developed.

In late 2004, Francis was assigned with developing a DNA profile from evidence collected in the Rasmussen murder. During that time, Shepard and Francis communicated about the case. Francis was instrumental in spurring staff at the LA County Coroner's Office to search their Evidence Control Section freezers for a piece of evidence listed in the case file but was not in LAPD custody. That evidence was a bite mark swab collected from the victim's body by LA County Criminalist Lloyd Mahaney. 

In 2005, the DNA profile that Francis developed from that swab indicated Sherri's murderer was a woman. That DNA profile eventually led to the June 2009 arrest of LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus for the murder of Sherri Rasmussen. Lazarus was convicted of first degree murder in 2012, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

The Civil Case
On October 30, 2013 Jennifer Francis (plaintiff) sued her employer, the City of Los Angeles, LAPD (defendant).

Francis's lawsuit alleges retaliation by the City for having alerted LAPD management that detective(s) may have known about Lazarus in 2005, but failed to act on that information. Francis alleges that she was labeled as unstable and ordered to undergo psychological counseling after she alerted several superiors within the LAPD. You can read the full complaint HERE.

This case was assigned to Dept 56 at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse. Francis's lawsuit has been languishing in the LA County Superior Court system for over five years before coming to trial. In the five plus years the Francis case has been in Dept. 56, three different judges have presided over the department. The current judge is the Honorable Judge Holly Fujie.

Francis's counsel of record is the law firm of Taylor Ring. John Taylor is jointly assisted by the law firm of McNicholas & McNicholas. Matthew McNicholas is in court and occasionally his associate Douglas Winter. However, it was Courtney McNicholas who I saw at all the pretrial hearings I've attended over the years.

Over the past five years the City of Los Angeles has had several different Deputy City Attorney's assigned to the case. The case was eventually farmed out to an independent law firm, Sanders Roberts in 2018 to defend. Reginald Roberts, Shawn Thomas and Melvin Felton are all seated at the defense table.

Jennifer Francis has been sitting in the gallery for most of the trial, since there is no room for her at the plaintiff's table. Also in the gallery are Tim Lai, from LAPD Legal Affairs and Karen Park, a supervisor in the City Attorney's office. Ms. Park is always sharply dressed and I've been envious of the beautiful scarves she wears to adorn her ensemble. On a few occasions, counsel and gentlemen in the gallery have discussed the potential meaning of the color of their ties, and if the tie color signals an allegiance to a specific sports team.

The Stanley Mosk Courthouse

The Stanley Mosk Courthouse is a civil courthouse located in downtown Los Angeles. It is the largest courthouse in the nation. It is a sprawling building that takes up almost an entire city block. There is an entry to the building on Hill Street, on First Street and one on Grand Street. There are close to 100 courtrooms in this building, each one with a busy, over-burdened schedule. My recent divorce was granted in this courthouse.

The first thing you notice when you walk into one of these courtrooms is how absolutely tiny the majority of them are. You could almost fit two of these courtrooms into one of the 9th floor courtrooms of the Clara Shortridge-Foltz Criminal Justice Center. The well of the court area is very tiny. There are approximately 50 stadium type, fold down and nicely padded seats in the gallery. Since I've recently lost a noticeable amount of weight, these seats are finally comfortable for me. However, if you have a little bit extra on your hips, these seats might not feel so nice. (For those of you interested on how I've lost about 55 pounds in the last year, please feel free to email me. Sprocket)

Like the courtrooms in the criminal court building, there are no separate tables for the defense and plaintiff like what is depicted in many TV shows. It is one long table where the plaintiff's counsel sits closest to the jury box, and the defense on the other side. There is barely enough room for the five counsel at this table. The gentleman who is handling the presentation of all the exhibits put up on the big computer screen for the jury is sitting in the gallery in the first bench row and a small folding table is crammed partially in the aisle for his laptop.

Criminal vs. Civil Cases

I've covered criminal trials, mostly murder cases for about 12 years now. This is a civil case and the rules covering them are quite different than a criminal matter. I'm literally a fish out of water.

One of the first differences to note is, in State court, a civil case that is not adjudicated or brought to trial within five years can be dismissed. Evidence that is going to be presented at trial must be disclosed to the other party at least 30 days before trial. You cannot spring a surprise witness or evidence on the opposing party just days before the start of a trial, like the defense did in the Kelly Soo Park murder case. The judge would not allow it.

Jury instructions are different too. I'm familiar with California's CALJIC and CALCRIM, standard instructions in criminal cases. However, I am totally lost in the sea of jury instructions outlined for civil litigation. Jury instructions will be a noteworthy issue in this case. The trial has started and several jury instructions are still being negotiated. This means I don't know at this date what specific issues in the original complaint will be decided by the jury.

The judge in a civil case can also limit counsel to the number of hours each side has to present their case. Judge Holly Fujie has limited each side to just 30 hours of court time to present opening arguments, their case, cross examination and closing arguments. Judge Fujie is keeping a running tab on how many hours each side uses in voir dire, opening statements and examining witnesses. The courts total of the hours spent so far is usually asked for by the parties at the end of the day. It remains to be seen if Judge Fujie will keep the parties to these limits. (Note: As of the close of court on March 27, the plaintiff disagreed with the court's tabulation of their hours spent. Sprocket)

Tuesday, Pre-trial Witness: Dr. Annette Rittmann
Last Friday and Monday, Dr. Rittmann was order by the court to appear in Dept. 56. She gave testimony not related to the trial itself that the jury would hear, but related to motions filed by the plaintiff and the defense. Dr. Rittmann was the personal physician of Dorothy Tucker, Ph.D., (deceased). Dr. Tucker was a psychologist that the plaintiff, Jennifer Francis saw, when she was ordered by a superior into counseling with the LAPD's Behavioral Sciences Services Division (BSS). Once I obtain documents, I will have more on why Dr. Rittmann's testimony was a positive outcome for the defense.

Voir Dire
Right after Dr. Rittmann was released from the stand a group of jurors were called to Dept. 56. Jury selection continued on March 13, 14 and 15. In the afternoon of March 15, opening statements were presented by both parties. I was unable to attend opening statements but I hope to obtain a copy of the court reporter's transcript.

UPDATE: Voir Dire - Continued
When the jurors were brought in, Judge Fujie talked to the jurors about her own grandparents who came to this country and were not allowed to vote or participate in the legal process. Judge Fujie said she thinks of her grandparents every time she has a trial. With a smile on her face, Judge Fujie also told the jurors, "I give snacks." She told the jurors that it would take 9 of 12 jurors to reach a verdict. She then gave the jurors the standard pretrial instruction.

Each side gave a short statement explaining to the jurors what the case was about from their perspective.

Mr. Roberts cuts a nice figure in his tailored suits. When it was his turn to address the jury, he told the jurors to imagine themselves as a pilot on a plane.

I took very few notes during voir dire on this day.

The next post on the case can be found HERE.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Monica Sementilli & Robert Louis Baker Pertrial Hearing 9

Clara Shortridge-Foltz Criminal Justice Center
Downtown Los Angeles

March 27, 2019
It wasn't until around 7am this morning that I realized that I had totally forgotten about today's hearing. I rushed out the door around 7:35am hastily dressed, no makeup and drove downtown. It took me an hour and 20 minutes to get downtown, part and clear security. I made it to the court lobby in time to see Monica Sementilli's defense team of Blair Berk and Leonard Levine exiting an elevator and leaving the court. I had totally missed the hearing.

Fortunately, a few minutes later I happened to also see Mr, Michael Simmrin, Robert Baker;'s defense attorney in the lobby. The first thing I asked him is if he still represented Mr. Baker. I wasn't sure if leaving the Alternate Public Defender's Office and entering private practice would change his representation. He said he still represented Mr. Baker. I then asked him the date of the next hearing.

The next hearing in this case will be on May 21.

The wonderful Terri Keith of City News Service informed me that the April trial date had been vacated. It is my understanding that no new trial date has been set at this time.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part VI, 3/17/86)


Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part VI, 3/17/1986)

In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in her Van Nuys home.

23 years later, in 2009, LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus was arrested for the crime. Lazarus was convicted of first degree murder in 2012, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

Early in her LAPD career, Stephanie kept a diary of her daily patrol rounds.

This diary entry is from March 17, 1986, 33 years ago today and three weeks after Sherri's murder.

 At the time, Stephanie was a patrol officer assigned to the LAPD’s Devonshire Division. Her partner that day was Dennis H---.



2330 – 0815 (NO C-7)


First thing we did after roll call was to Handle a Code 30 on Vassar.

Then we had donuts Lassen / De Soto. At 0100 we had to go to the Station. I had to conduct a Rape Investigation. At first this Rape seemed legitimate. But as the story went on this blk female who lived at 91st and Vermont downtown got picked up by a blk male at 2300, went home with him to Merridy / Zelzah where he raped her and took her $21.00. It was rather the usual story for a prostitute. She doesn’t get paid so she claims rape.

We went by the apt and he wasn’t there. We took her to West Park for medical treatment. Then we went back to the Station to finish reports and see what we were going to do w/ her. We had to go to Parker Center to book the rape kit so we took her w/ us. She called her mom. There is always so much paper work for such a unnecessary report.

We stopped by Western Bagels on the way home, got some bagels.

Dennis wrote a registration ticket and a red light and that was EOW. We put in for no Code 7. Dennis is crazy to work w/. You don’t know know if he’s serious or not on anything. 

NOTE This morning Sgt. Ryan counseled me on a matter Scotty Henderson and I dealt with a few days ago. This man we had stopped at Tampa / Plummer in a Volkswagen who ran the light in front of us came in to complain that I yelled at him. He liked Scotty but said I yelled at him. I should have written that fool.

My friend Matthew McGough's book, The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation, will be released on April 30, 2019. You can pre-order his book on Amazon HERE.

The previous diary entry can be found HERE.
The next diary entry can be found HERE.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Jennifer Francis v. City of Los Angeles (LAPD), Trial Day One

Stanley Mosk Courthouse, Downtown Los Angeles

March 11, 2019
Jury selection begins in the civil case of Jennifer Francis v. City of Los Angeles (LAPD). This case is related to the Stephanie Lazarus murder trial. In 2012, Lazarus was convicted of first degree murder in the 1986 death of Sherri Rae Rasmussen.

Francis is the LAPD DNA analyst who in 2005, developed the DNA profile that pointed to a female suspect having murdered Sherri.

Francis is alleging retaliation by the City for having alerted LAPD management that investigators may have known about Lazarus in 2005, but failed to act on that information. Francis alleges that she was labeled as unstable and ordered to undergo counseling after she alerted her superiors.

The questions in this case that relate to the Lazarus case are, what did the LAPD know about Lazarus, and when did they know it? Did LAPD detectives look the other way once DNA showed that Sherri’s killer was a woman, and possibly a fellow officer?

This trial is expected to last two weeks or more. I hope to cover the entire trial. If I cannot attend, I will be getting updates from fellow journalists.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part V, 3/07/1986


Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part V, 3/7/1986)

In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in her Van Nuys home.

23 years later, in 2009, LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus was arrested for the crime. Lazarus was convicted of first degree murder in 2012, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

Early in her LAPD career, Stephanie kept a diary of her daily patrol rounds.

This diary entry is from March 7, 1986, 33 years ago today. At the time, Stephanie was a patrol officer assigned to the LAPD’s Devonshire Division. Eleven days earlier, Stephanie murdered Sherri.

2330 – 0815 



K--- drove tonight thank god. I didn’t sleep very much today. I was very tired. In fact all I did all night was to sleep. I couldn’t keep awake if you paid me. So we just drove around. [K---] is very unsafe, but I was so tired.

She made a few traffic stops for Drunks that were so far from being drunk. She also stands real close, and then she explains that she thinks they're border line drunk and to be careful.

For Code 7 I slept at the Station.

Then as the Sun was coming up [K---] wanted to get a few tickets. We stopped and sat on stop lights that there was no way anyone was going to run. Then she’d move to another crummy location. I told her no one was going to run these lights. I was really so tired I didn’t really care.

K--- is really bad news as far as tactics and knowing what to do. Very little common sense and until you work with her, one doesn’t really know.

 My friend Matthew McGough's book, The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation, will be released on April 30, 2019. You can pre-order his book on Amazon HERE.

The previous diary entry can be found HERE.
The next diary entry can be found HERE.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Christian-Newsom Torture Murder Case - Update on Davidson's Appeal

Previous post can be found HERE.


This is a guest entry by our long-time contributor David in TN. Sprocket

February 28, 2019
Oh Thursday, February 28, 2019, Judge Walter Kurtz denied Lemaricus Davidson’s bid for a new trial in the Christian-Newsom torture murder case. 

Because of the heavy publicity the case received locally, it would have been expected the defense would request a change of venue. In most states, this means moving a trial to another city. In Tennessee, an outside jury is brought in. For the other trials for this case, juries were bused into Knoxville from Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jackson.

Since the defense asked for a Knox County jury, and rebuffed the presiding judge when he tried to talk them into an outside Knoxville jury pool, the defense was not supposed to be able to appeal on this issue.

At the January hearing, Davidson's new legal team, who specialize in capital cases, tried to do exactly that.

"The judge shot them down."

Judge Kurtz ruled Davidson "is not entitled to the benefit of hindsight. The fact that a strategy does not work does not make the lawyer ineffective."

The judge found Davidson and his lawyers made the wrong decision on their own. Davidson's attorneys testified at the hearing they hoped jury selection would drag on and a plea bargain would result.

The jury was seated on the first attempt.

The best opinion based on legal precedent was this appeal would fail and it did.

T&T's complete coverage of the Christian-Newsom Torture Murder Case

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part IV, 03/03/1985)


Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part IV, 3/3/1985)

In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in her Van Nuys home.

23 years later, in 2009, LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus was arrested for the crime. Lazarus was convicted of first degree murder in 2012, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

Early in her LAPD career, Stephanie kept a diary of her daily patrol rounds.

This diary entry is from March 3, 1985, 34 years ago today. 

At the time, Stephanie was a patrol officer assigned to the LAPD’s Hollywood Division.

2100 – 0430




Well this will be my first time working the trick task force. First thing Ofcr H--- who was in charge did was take all the girls pictures, myself, Patti C---, Linda P---, Michelle Ba---.

Then we had roll call. The PED unit was also there. They gave everyone their assignments. Then everyone put in $2.00 for pizza. Then we went and had Code 7 until 2230.

Tonight they used the Directors Guild, Sunset and Hayworth.

We didn’t actually start working until 2300. P--- went first, then Ba---, C--- and me.

The first guy I got was a man walking down the street. He asked me if I was working. Then he wanted a blow job for $25.00. I said OK let’s got to my place and Security arrested him. He was an Engineer.

NOTE Security is about 5’ from where the girl stands. One of the ofcrs was playing like a bum sweeping the sidewalks with a palm tree, it was funny.

After you arrest a guy you go in the back, get his ID, and write up a face sheet, arrest report and booking slip. Then when PED gets a few guys they take them to the Station to book them.

Just about every guy who stopped me asked if I was a cop. On my next turn 3 guys drove off and the 1 I got wanted a straight fuck for $40.00. This guy was mad at me because he asked if I was a cop and I said no. He was a butcher.

Well my next 2 times out were pathetic. I must [have] got turned down by 8 guys, all who thought I was a cop. One approach I tried that one of the guys suggested was to cuss at them. Well that didn’t work and Sgt. H--- didn’t like it.

All the other girls had gotten 5 arrests. I had only 2, but I went out once more. I had this Oriental stop for me, they're supposed to be the easiest. He wanted a fuck for $20.00. I got him pretty quick.

At least I didn’t feel too bad. We finished up about 0330 and went back to the Station.

NOTE At 0200 we had our pizza break. I got a ride back with 5 of the guys, Bo---, W--- and 3 other ofcrs. Well it was one of the guys last night so he wanted to chase a drag queen. We went to Highland and Franklin and chased one. It was kinda funny, we’re tearing down the streets and this thing is running for its life.

The work was easy and fun. Time went by quick. I was disappointed in how I did, not so much how much the susp offered but the time I was cussing at them. It’s not like me and the guys running the task force seemed mad at me. I don’t think they’ll ask me to do it again. I’m sure I’ll have to ask them.

This was the first day of my day watch. I am off on 3-4-85 and I’m having my nose surgery on 3-5-85. I’ll be out for a few weeks. 

My friend Matthew McGough's book, The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation, will be released on April 30, 2019. You can pre-order his book on Amazon HERE.

The previous diary entry can be found HERE.

The next diary entry can be found HERE.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, Pretrial Hearing 47

The previous post on this case can be found HERE.

Michael Thomas Gargiulo

UPDATE 3/12: See below & edited for typos. Sprocket
March 1, 2019
This is a short post to let T&T readers know that I attended the pretrial hearing today. Judge Fidler denied the defense non-standard 995 motion to dismiss the case. Jury selection will start with jurors receiving the jury questionnaire on March 19, 2019.

I hope to have a full update on today's proceedings by next Tuesday. I was not able to obtain documents today and hope to get them by Monday.

There is the possibility that while jury selection in the Gargiulo case commences, I will be covering a civil case in the Stanley Mosk Courthouse. 

March 12, 2019
I'm still trying to get a copy of the defense non-standard 995 motion, supplemental non-standard 995 motion as well as the defense response to the people's 1101(b) motion. As soon as I obtain these documents, I'll update everyone on what happened at this hearing.
More to come....

Monday, February 25, 2019

Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part III 2/25/1985)


Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part III, 2/25/1985)

In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in her Van Nuys home.

23 years later, in 2009, LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus was arrested for the crime. Lazarus was convicted of first degree murder in 2012, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

Early in her LAPD career, Stephanie kept a diary of her daily patrol rounds.

This diary entry is from February 25, 1985, 34 years ago today. 

At the time, Stephanie was a patrol officer assigned to the LAPD’s Hollywood Division. Her partner that day was Wayne Morris.

2245 - 0730

FEB 25 1985

In roll call today Ofcr Koon made Sgt so they had a singing telegram for him. It was funny.

I’m driving. First call we get is a attack vict. So we go over to the call (Ridgewood) and this white man greets us. Well I thought this was going to be a good rape. I don’t know why, it’s a crummy neighborhood. We talk to the vict who is hysterical. At first I thought she might be retarded, but she was just upset. She was on the corner of Santa Monica / Wilton waiting for the bus and 2 guys came up behind her, dragged her into their car and took her behind the Sears. ...

We took her for medical treatment. She was so hysterical we didn’t get the full story from her until about 1 1/2 hours later. We found out she wasn’t raped but they did the medical exam. We sat in waiting room (Queen of Angels) and ate sandwiches and cookies and watched TV. Then we took her and her parents home. I wrote the report. We got done about 0400.

Wayne didn’t want to eat, so I lifted weights. Wayne slept in the parking lot (car). Then we went to the taco shop and got something to eat.

Then we got a call at 0615 a poss attack susp. We got to the location and the husband answered the door. He said he didn’t call, but we asked to speak to his wife. She said yes she had called. She had filed a ADW report against him last week. So we arrested him. We booked him for Wife Beating and Wayne wrote the report and I booked. We got done by 0730. Time to go home.

I was supposed to work on 2-26-85, but I really didn’t feel like going to work so I called for a T/O and got it. I was glad. So I have one more night of morning watch.

My friend Matthew McGough's book, The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation, will be released on April 30, 2019. You can pre-order his book on Amazon HERE.

The previous diary entry can be found HERE.
The next diary entry can be found HERE.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Stephanie Laazrus In Her Own Words (Part II 2/24/1985)


Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part II, 2/24/1985)

In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in her Van Nuys home.

23 years later, in 2009, LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus was arrested for the crime. Lazarus was convicted of first degree murder in 2012, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

Early in her LAPD career, Stephanie kept a diary of her daily patrol rounds.

This diary entry is from February 24, 1985, 34 years ago today. 

At the time, Stephanie was a patrol officer assigned to the LAPD’s Hollywood Division. Her partner that day was Dave May. A year later, on February 24, 1986, Stephanie murdered Sherri.

2245 – 0730

We had roll call training today in Hostage Negotiation. Sgt. Anderson gave the training. It was informative. 

This is the last night I work with May.

NOTE – This morning we had a qualifying run for the Vegas run. I ran 5 miles in 37 minutes. There were 8 people, me and 7 guys. I came in 7th. I beat May at the end.

First thing we did May wrote a ticket to a guy who had no license plate no registration. Then we were going back to the Station and 3 people walked across the don’t walk right in front of us. So we stopped them and of course they had no ID. So we took them to the Station and wrote them a ticket.
Then we went by Marathon and St. Andrews. First time we drove by we saw nothing, then we went by again and Dave saw a guy throw his bindles on the ground. We stopped the guy and Dave found the bindles and we arrested him. The susp looked like a real cholo, but he was rather truthful with us. He did admit that he was going to sell the marijuana. The guy was really funny. I kinda felt bad booking him. 

May wrote the report and booked the susp on the computer. He wanted me to write the report, but I didn’t see the guy dropped the stuff. So I don’t like writing reports that I have to lie on.
Then we tried to eat. I was really getting tired. But we got a call for 459 Susps. There were none at the location so then we got Code 7. We ate at Sunset and Vista, free. Not many units eat at this location because prostitutes and pimps hang out here. 

Then we answered a call 459 Susp breaking into a car at 1700 Gramercy. I was falling asleep. We got to the location and we saw the guy flagging us down. So we drove up to him and he told us we passed the Susps. Dave saw them run but I was so tired I didn’t see a thing. I got out of the car and ran to the apt. Well it was the wrong apt. So we lost him. I took a report and that was it for the day. Dave I think liked working with me and said someday he’d probably be working for me as Chief or something.

My friend Matthew McGough's book, The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation, will be released on April 30, 2019. You can pre-order his book on Amazon HERE.

The previous diary entry can be found HERE.

The next diary entry can be found HERE.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Monica Sementilli & Robert Louis Baker Pretrial Hearing 9

Previous post can be found HERE.

Fabio Sementilli, murdered January 23, 2017.
Photo Credit:

UPDATE 2/27: edited for spelling errors
February 21, 2019
8:28 AM
I arrive at the elevator bay of the Clara Shortridge-Foltz Criminal Justice Center at the same time as DDA's Beth Silverman, Melissa Opper and their clerk-interns. The two clerks working with the DDA's are young and bright looking. They have that sharp, aware look in their eyes.

We take an elevator up to the 9th floor together. DDA Silverman always says hello when she sees me. DDA Opper is wearing a sleek light chocolate coat. I want that coat. Not specifically her coat, since she is a tiny, petite person, but one just like it once I lose the rest of the weight I put on when I was with my ex. I'm envious of the sharp looking heels that Beth and Melissa are wearing. I've not been able to wear heels since I broke my left ankle in four places about 30 years ago.

8:30 AM Inside Dept 101, Judge Coen's Courtroom

DDA'sa Silverman and Opper take their places at the people's table and start arranging their files. I take a seat in the second bench row. The interns sit in the front row, near the people's table. Defense attorney Leonard Levine arrives with the gray haired man whose name I still don't know. Mr. Levine goes to DDA Opper and documents are exchanged. Blair Berk has not arrived yet.

There is a different court reporter at the reporter's desk that DDA Silverman knows and they start to chat like old friends. Over at the clerk's desk, Judge Coen's clerk asks Mr. Levine if they are still waiting for Ms. Berk. I do not hear his answer. Ms. Berk does not come to the hearing today.

8:34 AM
Judge Coen comes out from his chamber to chat with his clerk. We are waiting on Mr. Simmrin, Baker's defense attorney. DDA Opper hands several pages to DDA Silverman and Beth asks, "Whose is this? I can't read it." She then says, "This is Lenny," referring to Mr. Levine. I'm guessing it's something Levine has filed on behalf of his client.

The gray haired man who arrived with Mr. Levine chats with Judge Coen at the clerks desk like he often does. It's clear the men know each other well. I note that Beth's necklace today is several, long fine strands of gold chain. The two DA interns chat while Beth talks about her new puppy. Beth and I both love animals but she is a dog person and I'm a cat person. I'm still not completely settled in my new place yet. Once I am I will be shopping shelters and rescue organizations for my next feline companion.

8:45 AM
We are still waiting on Mr. Simmrin, Baker's defense attorney to arrive.

8:47 AM

Judge Coen goes back to his chambers and puts on his robe. He then takes the bench and waits on the bench. Judge Coen has some papers in his hand that he appears to read. He appears contemplative. He gives out a heavy sigh that I can hear.

An Asian man enters and takes a seat in the far corner of the back row.  DDA Silverman reads a motion paper. The courtroom bailiff gets chairs ready at the defense table. Defendant Robert Louis Baker is brought out and placed in the chair he usually sits in at the end of the defense table. His attorney is still missing.

Judge Coen and his female clerk chat. It appears to be about the case that is currently in trial in Judge Coen's court. The defendant is Francisco Cardenaz Guzman a hotel owner charged with murder. The handsome DDA John McKinney is prosecuting the case.

8:52 AM

Defense attorney Michael Simmrin arrives and apologizes to the court for his tardiness. Simmrin is in the transition stage of leaving the Alternate Public Defender's Office and (I believe) entering private practice.

Judge Coen goes on the record in this case. He states that defendant Sementilli missed the first bus. The court expects that there will be a motion to sever the two cases but nothing has been filed yet. Discovery is discussed. Mr. Simmrin states he is waiting on another batch of discovery from the people. DDA Opper holds up a drive indicating she has what he is expecting in her hands. DDA Silverman states that what is on this drive is "... a lot of potential evidence."

Mr. Simmrin is pushing to move the already set trial date forward because he has no idea how much information is on the discovery drive he has not seen yet.  The court states that there is nothing that you (Mr. Simmrin?) can do at this time. The court will leave the trial date to stand for now.

DDA Silverman informs the court that they have over 100 witnesses the people are going to have subpoena on this case. My understanding is she is indicating the current trial date is not nearly enough time to prepare for that. Mr. Simmrin states he does not know what is on the discovery he hasn't seen yet but he could not be ready for trial by the original trial date.

Judge Coen speaks quickly about Mr. Baker's six amendment rights. He knows that Mr. Simmrin has a lot of discovery to still review. He tells him, "I won't have an attorney unprepared for trial."

Then there is a back and forth discussion between the court, the people and the defense about the next court date. Several dates are thrown out until they finally settle on March 27th. The court states the matter is continued to that date for pretrial. The court adds that the trial date still remains.

DDA Silverman tells the court that they have subpoenas for multiple records for various financial institutions. The court clerk indicates that one subpoena did come in, from Proctor & Gamble.

DDA Silverman asks for permission to take the documents, copy and disburse copies to the defense. That's agreed. She then asks for a continuing stipulation that the people can come in and pick up these documents as they come in and make copies for disbursement. Mr. Levine is agreeable as long as the people tell them where the documents are from. Mr. Simmrin has no objection either. The amendment is agreeable.

8:57 AM

And that's it. They are off the record.

There is a bit of banter between the court and counsel off the record on unrelated subjects. Judge Coen asks Mr. Simmrin if he is out yet because his name has been removed off the website. Mr. Simmrin states that his last day is tomorrow, Friday.  DDA Silverman tell the defense attorneys that she will need another drive from each of them. Mr. Simmrin walks over to the DDA's interns and introduces himself.

An attorney enters Dept. 101 with files and a rolling cart. He's probably one of the counsel in trial at the moment in front of Judge Coen. Judge Coen tells the counsel that [?] is sick today and he's not sure if they will be in trial tomorrow.

As counsel start to gather up their things Judge Coen states he's getting an "...eighth box today..."  Judge Coen when he is in trial, or making rulings, has these long black boxes on his bench filled with index cards that hold all the Superior Court decisions. I've seen Judge Coen reach into one of these boxes and pull out a ruling to quote from it. DDA Silverman states that Judge Coen must get these boxes custom made.  There's more banter between DDA Silverman and the court and then everyone slowly heads out. As I leave I note that DDA John McKinney is in the well of the court -somehow I missed seeing him come in- speaking with the other attorney and Judge Coen.

I have a debate with myself on staying to listen to a bit of the current trial but ultimately decide to head over to the old Federal Building on Spring street for breakfast. The cafeteria in the criminal court, the line for service is out the door.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part I, 2/19/1985)


Stephanie Lazarus In Her Own Words (Part I, 2/19/1985)

In 1986, Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in her Van Nuys home.

23 years later, in 2009, LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus was arrested for the crime. Lazarus was convicted of first degree murder in 2012, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

Early in her LAPD career, Stephanie kept a diary of her daily patrol rounds.

This diary entry is from February 19, 1985, 34 years ago today. 

At the time, Stephanie was a patrol officer assigned to the LAPD’s Hollywood Division. According to her diary, her partner that day was Stacy Koon. Koon later gained notoriety as one of the four LAPD officers involved in the 1991 videotaped beating of Rodney King.

Lazarus Diary

2245 - 0830


I wasn’t really looking forward to working with Koon, but it wasn’t too bad. At beginning of watch Koon apparently found a baggie of marijuana in the car so he was going to book it.

We were very busy with radio calls, nothing too exciting.

We did have one call which [was] a 459 susp there now. It turned out to be this lady's son. She didn't want him in the house. He had already left. Well this lady was kinda crazy. She wanted us to do something but she didn't want to have him arrested.

At about 0300 we had this 211 that just occurred at the House of Pancakes. Well we were a blk from the restaurant. We got there and it supposedly happened 10 min ago. No one in the restaurant seemed too concerned when we walked in. Well what had happened was some guys took the money out of the cash register.

Well we were driving by 6830 Sunset (stolen car from here). Koon saw this car with a male driving it with apparently 3 young girls. We started following it and the susp turned S/B on Mansfield and the chase was on.

I had to put the Rover in the convert-a-com to broadcast. At first I was rather nervous, then once we got going I was calmed down. We drove in the pursuit for 3.3 miles. I don't know how long we were in the pursuit, but it seemed like slow motion. We were driving all over. It seemed really weird, just like watching a movie. Koon threw everything in the back seat. We were putting on our seat belts. Other units were helping. We were E/B on Sunset past Highland and a unit was coming W/B on Sunset. The susp turned S/B on Seward then E/B on Leland Way and the street Dead Ended. The susp ran from the car through a long pathway. I watched the 3 people in the car. Koon looked up the pathway and didn't see the susp. There were units all around but the guy vanished into thin air. We think he ran into a apt building or to one of the hotels on Sunset.

The canine unit came out and we searched. The dog picked up no scent whatsoever. Luckily a TA unit came and took the traffic report. We had to write a Impound report and the recovery of the stolen plates. It was kinda good that we didn't arrest the guy, we really would have worked overtime. 

Everyone was telling me how good of a broadcast it was. It got better as time went on. It was a weird experience, like time stops.

My friend Matthew McGough's book, The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation, will be released on April 30, 2019. You can pre-order his book on Amazon HERE.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, Pretrial Hearing 46

The previous hearing on this case can be found HERE.

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, booking photo
June 2008.

UPDATE 2/23: Corrected Gargiulo's age.
UPDATED 2/16: Edited for spelling errors, clarity. Sprocket
February 1, 2019
I was late getting out the door this morning. It now takes me a hour-and-a-half to get to court via public transportation. I arrive on the 9th floor of the Clara Shortridge-Foltz Criminal Justice Center about 10 minutes before 9 am. I know Judge Fidler's courtroom opens at 8:30 so I head inside.

Lead defense counsel Dale Rubin is in the well of the court. CBS 48 Hours producer Greg Fisher is in the gallery sitting in the back row with Christine Pelisek, People Magazine reporter. I debate on whether to sit with them. I like to sit in the second row. I hate sitting in the back row because I cannot hear as well. I decide to sit in the third row in front of them, so I can still chat.

There is a bit of conversation between the press and Mr. Rubin, who is quite reticent about talking to the press about his client. Anything but that. All he will mention is, when he was supposed to retire in 2017 -Gargiulo is his last case- and where he would like to move to, out of California. Over the last few years, I've observed Rubin to be a friendly man and have had a few conversations with him. He gets along very well with the prosecution. He also speaks and interacts with Gargiulo respectfully. I'm betting that goes a long way with the defendant.

8:55 AM
Deputy District Attorney's Dan Akemon and Garrett Dameron enter Dept. 106 with Retired Sheriff's Detective Mark Lillienfeld. I've known Detective Lillienfeld for a long time. I saw him testify in the first Phil Spector trial and the second. He gives me a big smile and says hello.

A few minutes later Defense attorney Dan Nardoni enters. There is now a huddle in the well between the two teams as they confer over documents. I note that Nardoni has on a nice black suit. My eye is drawn to the red and black handkerchief in his suit pocket.

Over at the clerk's desk, Wendy, Judge Fidler's clerk for as long as I've been covering trials is not here. There is a man who is sitting in for her. There are two extra deputies in the well besides the bailiff. Behind me, I listen in as Greg and Christine chat about other cases they are covering. Not a single one rings a bell with me.

9:07 AM
The court reporter comes out to take her seat in the well. I stand up to look in the jury box. There are no notebooks on the jury seats which leads me to believe Judge Fidler is not in trial at the moment. Attorneys come in for other cases.  A Judge in robes I don't immediately recognize strides into Dept. 106 rather quickly. He asks the stand-in clerk at Wendy's desk if he can have a few minutes with the judge. I know most of the male judges on the 9th floor. Judge Coen, Judge Marcus, Judge Perry, Judge Fidler, Judge Lomelli, Judge Pastor. If the Judge was from this floor, I'm thinking this is Judge Curtis Rappe, in Department 103 but that's just a guess.

9:13 AM
Another defendant is brought out. He's a smallish man wearing a blue jumpsuit.

9:14 AM
Judge Fidler takes the bench.

The first case is continued to another date. It's over quickly. Then a second case, with no defendant present that takes less than a minute.

Then the Gargiulo case is up. The clerk asks DDA Akemon if counsel wants to confer with the court first. DDA Akemon responds, "I think we need the defendant out."

Gargiulo comes out. He looks much like he did last time. His head is completely shaved bald, like it has been for several years now. He has a mustache that is still dark and a goatee that is almost completely white.

The first issue discussed is the defense 995 (Penal Code) motion to dismiss. Rubin tells the court it is a non-statuitory motion. There are documents attached. The motion has not been argued yet. That motion is set for Friday March 1. I have been waiting since 2012 for this motion to be presented and argued.

Next up, 1101b. DDA Akemon addresses the court. The people have several 1101b (Evidence Code) motions before the court and asking for rulings today. The first is a motion to introduce the Tricia Pacaccio murder that occurred in 1993 in Illinois. The motion was filed in 2013. This motion was also litigated at the preliminary hearing. It's a 55 page motion. The people have nothing to add to the motion at this time. The second 1101b motion is a knife attack on Ashley Green. It's a 20 page motion. The people have nothing to add to that motion. The third 1101b are statements made by the defendant during the Perkin's Operation [at the El Monte jail]. The people filed a 55 page motion.  Mr. Gargiulo filed a response. The people don't have anything further to add. 

The people's prior motion of introducing a signature expert, former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole is discussed. The people inform the court that they are not going to utilize Ms. O'Toole. The court asks the people what the basis for introducing her. DDA Akemon tells the court that the people believe they have ample [basis? argument?] to support this evidence.

Nardoni tells the court that the arguments in the people's motions 1101b motions come from Ms. O'Toole. 

I believe it's DDA Akemon that informs the court that in the Pacaccio murder, they have 19 points of similarity [to the California charges].

Nardoni argues that the 1993 murder of Tricia Pacaccio adds nothing to what the government already has to identity and intent.  "...but clear in this case that the Tricia Pacaccio case adds nothing further to the government case." Nardoni goes back to the Ashley Ellerin case. The defendant knew her and she lived close by. Maria Bruno, [they lived in] the same complex. The have a bootie found in the courtyard with the victim's blood and DNA and alleged epithelial [cells, touch DNA] to the defendant. Nardoni asks the court, "Is identity really an issue in this case?"

Nardoni continues with his arguments, shifting to victim Ashley Ellerin. Ellerin was stabbed 47 times. "Is that really an issue? [Maria] Bruno was stabbed 17 times. Her breasts were cut off. ... Is intent an issue?"  Nardoni then mentions Michelle Murphy. "The problem of introducing under the facts of this case ... unduly prejudicial on this case, particularly in the guilt phase. ... I believe the introduction of Tricia Pacaccio [murder] is evidence of propensity, all covered by 1101a."

Judge Fidler asks about the guilt phase. Judge Fidler mentions Pacaccio and Gargiulo, "...they grew up together."  Nardoni responds, "Killing [his] best friend's sister ... is really identity an issue? It isn't. ... [The] facts speak for themselves."

Nardoni then addresses the 1101b for Ashley Green. It was filed August 8, 2017. The Ashley Green incident occurred in 2002. Nardoni continues to argument that the facts of that incident don't fall under 11l1b. "He lived in the same complex. It happened in broad daylight ... by the door. ... Other incidents .... evening hours. ... He takes from his pocket, a 3" folding pocket knife. ... He gives it to her and she opens it up."  It's related to self defense. It may have been inappropriate but does it go, call for intent and identity. Nothing material. Nothing related. Nardoni adds, "Nonsense to talk about intent and identity on a pocket knife."

Judge Fidler asks the people to respond [for the record] and also address about admissibility.

DDA Akemon responds. "The 1101b issues were articulated [and litigated at preliminary hearing]. .. Nineteen similarities between Ashley Ellerin and Tricia Pacaccio attacks. ... We believe we met that burden under the [Dewalt?] analysis. ... We've met the standard of admission on Tricia Pacaccio. ... Mr. Gargiulo has pled not guilty by reason of insanity. So, 1101b is also relevant to his state of mind, in particular to plan and premeditate. ... I think we can add that as an area of relevance in the Ashley Green attack."

Judge Fidler asks, "How so?"

DDA Akemon responds, "So geographic ... lived near and around ... a knife to the throat. ... [There are] seven to eight similarities to other attacks to other women."

Judge Fidler asks the people to comment on Gargiulo's admissions. Judge Fidler brings up the alleged statement by the defendant, "They're looking for me for a murder in Chicago."

Mr. Rubin interjects and explains what he believes the court is referencing. Then DDA Akemon clears it up for the court. That there was an individual arrested in Chicago, regarding statements by Gargiulo here. The court asks, "Is that coming into evidence here?"

DDA Akemon responds that there are two individuals, a Temer Leary and Anthony Dilorenzo, former friends of the defendant who worked with him in 1998. Statements to the effect of, "I left that bitch for dead... or something similar. ... So the answer is yes, we plan to introduce [those witnesses at trial]."

Nardoni asks to add more to his rebuttal argument. He looked over the Ashley Green motion. "The people say that Mr. Gargiulo attacked Ashley Green. ... simply not true. ... She never reported to police, or assaulted by knife to police." Nardoni continues to argue that it does not go to intent.

Gargiulo is leaning forward, listening intently to Nardoni argue.

Nardoni argues that with the Pacaccio murder, "... we're talking about a trial within a trial. [The] relevancy is outweighed by the prejudice."

Judge Fidler asks for the spelling of Tricia Pacaccio's last name.

Mr. Rubin then steps up to argue against the 1101b motions. This is unusual. It's been my experience the court only allows one attorney to argue a motion, not two.  Mr. Rubin argues the point of the evidence as to the way the crime was performed, other than the fact that Ms. Pacaccio was killed with a knife. Ms. Pacaccio lived a couple blocks around the corner from the Gargiulo family. Her murder occurred outside the door to the house that leads to the driveway. "[The house] is on a corner. ... Anywhere you stand you can see what's going on in that area. ... It's not similar to other attacks. ... The one thing we really have, is to get in front of the jury another murder, what he's also charged for."

Judge Fidler asks, "Is [your argument] the set of similarities or any dissimilarities, you can't use it? Mr. Rubin responds, "I use a fingerprint, or you can't use it by the court. When [Gargiulo's?] case was investigated, ... there were a number of other cases that ... (he was not involved in) ... the prosecution said, a number of steps. I don't know what that means. ... But some circumstances could be related to any other murder of this type."

Mr. Rubin continues his argument that, if the Tricia Pacaccio case is brought in, that means another four weeks of witnesses. Then Mr. Nardoni gets up to continue arguing another point relating to the Pacaccio murder that is different than the other cases.

Again, to me, this is unusual that two defense attorneys are both presenting motion arguments on the same issue.

Mr. Nardoni states that it is believed at the time of the [Picaccio] murder, right across the street, there was a late hour party with alcohol. "That factor detracts from [a] signature." Nardoni adds, "There were several suspects in the Pacaccio case that ended up committing suicide."

DDA Akemon presents rebuttal statements about the "level of proof" in the Pacaccio murder. "His [Gargiulo's] DNA is on Pacaccio's fingernails ... and the witness statements." DDA Akemon references Mr. Rubin's comments about signature needing to be a "fingerprint." DDA Akemon continues, "... Tricia Pacaccio and Ashely Green ... the issue of intent. Those are admissible because they are sufficiently similar."

The court signals in it's first comment how it plans to rule. Judge Fidler responds, "[I] feel differently to Ashley Green. I'll let you introduce Tricia Pacaccio. ... What's sufficiently similar ... knowledge of [individual?] victims ...  proximity of victim and place ... and use of knife as a weapon. ... That satisfies the law. ... I don't think it's unduly prejudicial. ... Facts of crime ... even with DNA ... I've seen cases.

Judge Fidler then references the Juliana Redding murder that was in Judge Kennedy's court, alleged to have been committed by Kelly Soo Park, who is now in his courtroom on another case/charge.

Judge Fidler explains, "... there was DNA on a victim in a case in Judge Kennedy's court, and I have the [same] defendant in another case." (Kelly Soo Park was acquitted in the Redding murder. Sprocket)

DDA Akemon responds that he understands about Ashley Green. I believe he adds that he doesn't know if the defendant will testify. He doesn't know what the mental experts will say.

The Perkin's Operation motion is brought up by Mr. Rubin. "I reread the Perkin's motion. I think it's important to note in Perkin's, the Supreme Court decided ..." Mr. Rubin reads directly from the court ruling. I don't write all of this down. It's not new argument presented by Mr. Rubin, it's a published decision of the original Perkin's.

Gargiulo intently watches Mr. Rubin present the Supreme Court's ruling on Perkin's. Then Mr. Rubin goes on about what happened in the Perkin's Operation in Gargiulo's case. "Forty-eight hours of tape where Mr. Gargiulo is barraged by witnesses. ... [They said to him] Don't listen to your lawyer. You can talk to us! Gargiulo was not in his house. He was in a custodial situation so under pressure at the time. ... If we consider what the prosecution did in this case ... it is so far out side (the issue of Perkin's) ... Also, Gargiulo was on medication at the time."

Rubin states that Gargiulo was in custody, Perkin's was not. "I believe we have a fifth amendment violation and outside of Miranda. ... if not required to give Miranda because of custody setting and also because of outside of contact with his counsel."

DDA Akemon rebuts the defense oral arguments. "He [Gargiulo] did have contact with his counsel. ...I would emphasize, that Mr. Gargiulo was so comfortable ... he was sleeping and had food. ... There were two [officers with him]. ... He was so comfortable in that setting ... not only did he hatch a plan of escape ... he was trying to recruit the other deputies to go in with him."

Mr. Rubin responds. "I didn't hear anything from the prosecution about, Don't listen to your lawyer. You can talk to us." Mr. Rubin continues with more reading from the higher courts decision on Perkins. "The court has long held that there are certain interrogation techniques that are so offensive that they ..."

When Mr. Rubin is finished, DDA Akemon tells the court the people have nothing to add. Then Judge Fidler gives his ruling. "The defense did a good job pointing out specifics in this case. ... I don't see where they broke down the will. ... I don't see it. ... It may come close to the line ... but it didn't cross it." 

Judge Fidler rules the evidence from the Perkin's Operation will come into the trial. The court calendar is set as zero of 60 as of today's date.

DDA Akemon states they are asking for a trial date of March 18, 2019.  That date is agreed to by all parties. Judge Fidler does tell the parties that he has a hearing on March 15th, (I believe in the massive insurance fraud case) a motion to disqualify the prosecution in that case.

The jury questionnaire is discussed. The people and the defense have been working on that. It's about 99% completed. The court asks if they are going to have a  pre-screening of time hardship waiver for the jurors. The court brings up a motion filed by the people about the security of the courtroom.

DDA Akemon tells the court that they are looking at a three phase trial [guilt, sanity, punishment] lasting four months. To be conservative, four to six months. Mr. Rubin asks about possibly sequestering the jury. The court responds, "...probably not."

In conclusion, the 995 motion will be argued on March 1 and jury selection will commence on March 18.  And that's it.

Sprocket Notes
At the time of this posting (February 15, 2019), Gargiulo's birthday, he is 43 years old. He has been in custody waiting trial 10 years, 8 months. A future post will attempt to answer why it has taken this long to bring Gargiulo to trial.

Unfortunately, at this time I do not know if I will be able to cover this entire trial.  I hope to be enrolled in classes for the summer session.

The next post on this case can be found HERE