Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Stephanie Lazarus Parole Board Hearing November 16, 2023

 Full T&T Lazarus archive

Sherri at home, December 1985.
Tomorrow, at 8:30 am, Stephanie Lazarus will have her first parole hearing for the murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen, on February 24, 1986. The murder occurred three months after Sherri married the love of her life, John Ruetten. 
For 23 years, Sherri's murder remained unsolved. Lazarus was arrested for Sherri's murder on June 5, 2009, found guilty of first degree murder on March 8, 2012 and Sentenced to 27 years to life on May 11, 2012. She's been in custody ever since her arrest. 
As of tomorrow, Lazarus will have been in custody for 14 years, 5 months and 7 days. Because Lazarus' crime was committed in '86, she was sentenced under California law that was in effect at that time. Back then, the use of a gun only added 2 years to the sentence (25 for murder + 2 for the gun). Today, murder or attempt murder with a gun automatically adds 25 years to a defendant's sentence. 
Additionally, Lazarus earns "good time" credit in custody at a much higher rate than if she murdered someone today. 
I have been told by sources that in her allocution to the parole board, Lazarus will admit to murdering Sherri. I've also been told that John Ruetten will make a statement. 
The current District Attorney of Los Angeles County, George Gascón, has implemented policies that are very favorable to the defendant and not so much to victims or their families. 
One of his first policy changes after he was sworn in, was to forbid Deputy DA's from having any participation or input at parole hearings. This means there is no advocate for victims at these hearings that know the facts and prosecuted the case that could counter any false statement the defendant might make to the parole board. 
Additionally, a lot of the information the parole board receives, such as the defendant's official statement to the board and other documents are not considered public documents. They don't have access to them.
There is another 'thing' in California law called "youthful offender" that the parole board can put a lot of weight into in favor of the defendant. What do you think the top age is for a defendant to be considered a "youthful offender"? It's 26 years of age. Lazarus was 25yrs and 9 months old when she murdered Sherri. I don't know if Stephanie's defense attorney will present a youthful offender argument at her parole hearing, but it is something that the parole board could consider. 
Another thing is, these hearings are all done on Zoom since the pandemic. Because of that, it creates an environment of emotional distance between the witnesses who will be allowed to speak and the parole board. Much different than if you are there in person, speaking to the board. 
Will Lazarus be granted parole on her first appearance before the board, with only serving a bit more than half of her minimum 27 years to life sentence? Who knows. 
Sherri's parents are both deceased. The Rasmussen family, Connie and Teresa, Sherri's sisters, have gathered a lot of counter-arsenal support, despite the obstacles in front of them. One of the DDA's who prosecuted Lazarus, Paul Nunez, now works for the Ventura County DA and is not bound by DA Gascón's policies. He will be one of the family's advocates. Additionally, Detective Greg Stearns, one of the detectives who interviewed Lazarus in that video I uploaded on T&T's YouTube channel, will also be there to represent the family. The Rasmussen family reached out to everyone who knew Sherri, asking them to write letters to the parole board. They gathered as large an arsenal as they could to represent Sherri. 
I did not get my request sent in time to attend as non-speaking media. However, I will be able to receive a copy of the transcript 30 days after the hearing. 
Fortunately, my friend and author Matthew McGough DID get his request sent in on time and will be there as another advocate of Sherri and as T&T's eyes and ears. 
Send some good thoughts and healing energy to Sherri's family and loved ones tomorrow.


M2 said...

It would be amazing to me if Lazarus receives a favorable parole decision on her first hearing.

Even if she was successful, the governor could overrule the decision. The criteria is identical to previous examples such as Leslie Van Houten.

Anything Lazarus says should be taken with a grain of salt. Her statement would be self serving, period. Her continued attempts to appeal conflict with any admission of the crime. She presently has argued for appeal in Federal Court during the last year.

A parole after only 14 years served would be a disgrace. While there has been a change to the parole process with favoritism to the inmate, a simple argument that Lazarus poses a danger to the community should be plainly obvious. Sherri’s legacy deserves due consideration. Many years have passed, but Lazarus has done nothing to earn a hint of forgiveness. Incarceration is expensive, but it is money well spent in this case.