Thursday, October 31, 2019

Stephanie Lazarus Case - HLN ORIGINALS, New Episode 11/3/19

Sherri Rasmussen & John Ruetten, 11/23/1985

New Show on Sherri Rasmussen Murder
New show airing on HLN Originals, November 3, 2019 at 8pm ET. As part of HLN's series DEAD WIVES CLUB, a new episode will air this Sunday on the murder of newlywed Sherri Rasmussen, murdered by Stephanie Lazarus, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

Journalist Matthew McGough, author of, former news anchor, writer and producer Pat LaLama and I were interviewed for the episode.

Complete T&T Lazarus trial coverage.

Stephanie Lazarus, Arrested June 2009

Friday, October 18, 2019

Michael Gargiulo Penalty Phase - Jury Has Reached A Verdict

Michael Thomas Gargiulo, 2008
The day of his arrest

UPDATE 10/20: The jury recommended death for Gargiulo. Local NBC4 has the story.
The Washington Post reports Gargiulo will be formally sentenced in February 2020.

October 18, 2019
The LA Superior Court has announced a verdict has been reached in the penalty phase of the case. The verdict will be read in Dept. 106 at 1:30 p.m., Pacific Time.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Moncia Sementilli & Robert Louis Baker, Pretrial Hearing 13 and Sprocket Update News

Fabio Sementilli, murdered 1/23/2017

October 16, 2018
Taking public transportation into downtown Los Angeles is always a chore for me and can take up to two hours or longer. Today went pretty smoothly for once. I left home at 6:20 a.m. and was on Temple Street, a block from the courthouse by 8:00 a.m.

After I stop to get a hot tea at the 5th floor snack bar, I'm on the 9th Floor by 8:15 a.m. The door is open but there is only one Sheriff at the security scanner and the deputy tells me he needs two deputies (one to operate the belt scanner and one to watch people walk through) to let people into the hallway.

While I'm waiting, defense counsel for Michael Gargiulo, Daniel Nardoni, -one of the nicer defense attorneys I've met around the courthouse- approaches the security station. He's carrying a recently laundered white shirt on a hanger covered in plastic. To get the shirt to his client, he has to sign a document -I note Mr. Nardoni is a fellow lefty- and put the shirt on the belt scanner without the hanger or plastic.

8:20 AM
After Mr. Nardoni clears security with his briefcase and shirt the security guard decides to let me and a few jurors go through to the 9th Floor hallway even though a second deputy has not arrived yet.

While I'm waiting at the end of the hallway I note that there is a sign hanging on the door to Dept. 101, Judge Coen's courtroom that says something to the effect of, "Jurors wait until called." This tells me that Judge Coen is currently in trial. An attorney approaches Dept. 101 and tries the door. It's locked and the gentleman takes a seat to wait. 

I then see Deputy DA Melissa Opper arrive. She's wearing a tan skirt suit with a black jacket, black handbag and what looks like a long, thin gold necklace. She has a great smile and is kind enough to say hello. She is about to try the door to Dept. 101 but I tell her it's still locked.

8:25 AM
It's quiet today. There are less than a dozen people on the floor, with most of them wearing juror badges. Michael Simmrin, defense counsel for Baker arrives.

While I'm waiting another familiar face arrives. It's defense attorney Steve Meister. Mr. Meister was co-counsel with Mark Werksman on the James Fayed murder trial. We chat for a moment about love behind bars and the criminal justice system. I then see Dept. 101 open and I tell him I have to go.

Inside Dept. 101
8:33 AM

The gentleman I saw in the hallway is sitting at the counsel tables and there are other counsel here as well. There are spiral notebooks on the juror's chairs. DDA Opper and Simmrin take seats in the well directly in front of the jury box and start to chat. I don't recognize the bailiff or the individual at the clerk's desk. There's a young, handsome black man sitting in the back row with a notebook. I sense he is here for the case in trial.  More counsel arrive for the current case. Judge Coen calls for counsel at sidebar for the case that is currently in trial. One of the prosecutors reminds me of the actor, William H. Macy without Macy's beard. It appears the court is discussing jury selection in the current case. 

8:35 AM
Defense counsel for Sementilli, Leonard Levine and Hans J. Allhoff arrive. It appears Ms. Berk will be a no show today. Mr. Levine takes a seat by DDA Opper. Their phones are out and they are talking return dates.

8:37 AM
Deputy DA Beth Silverman arrives and joins her co-counsel in trying to find a return date in the middle of November. I hear several dates thrown out. November 11, 12 and 14. It goes back and forth between Mr. Simmrin, Levine and the prosecution trying to find a date that works for everyone. It appears they have a date and the court is informally notified.

8:45 AM
Baker and Sementill are brought out. Both defendants are in orange jumpsuits. Since the attorneys for the case in trial are at the counsel tables, the defendants, their counsel and the prosecution team are all standing. Judge Coen goes on the record and asks the parties where they are. Mr. Levine starts off telling the court they have agreed to a return date of November 11, but that's wrong since it's a holiday. DDA Silverman takes over and tells the court the return date is November 13, with the case calendar set at zero of 90 with a "reasonable people's continuance." The court asks each defendant individually if they agree to the continuance to 11/13. They each give a verbal, "Yes." And that's it. It's all over in a few minutes.

Note: We learned at the last pretrial hearing that Mr. Simmrin will not be ready for trial in 2019. I expect there will be monthly continuances until a trial date is selected.

Sprocket Update News

I wanted to let everyone know what's been happening with me.

December 31 of last year I moved into my new home. I'm pretty much settled in now and life is very good in this safe space. I love my little house! I'm hopeful for nesting hummingbirds in the ficus trees I was able to bring with me when nesting season starts.

At the end of September I started school for a new career in the health care field. I will be done with my training in early January, and then schedule my testing with the state. Once I pass the exam, I'll be looking for work in that field. I don't know where I will land but I'm hopeful I will be employed before the end of February.

I will continue to attend pretrial hearings in the Sementilli/Baker case as long as I am able. Once I'm settled in a new job, I will be trying to find the time to write up the rest of my notes on the Jennifer Francis civil trial that I attended earlier this year. There's a lot to digest in that case that is related to the Stephanie Lazarus murder trial.

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