HomeCity NewsParole Recommended for Detective Convicted in Murder

Parole Recommended for Detective Convicted in Murder

By City News Service

A state parole board panel last week recommended parole for a former Los Angeles Police Department detective who was convicted of gunning down her ex-lover’s wife, a 29-year-old Glendale Adventist Medical Center nursing supervisor — Sherri Rasmussen — in 1986 at the condominium where the couple lived in Van Nuys.
The decision was made during the first parole suitability hearing for Stephanie Ilene Lazarus, an art theft investigator and 25-year LAPD veteran who was convicted in March 2012 of first-degree murder for fatally shooting Rasmussen on Feb. 24, 1986.
Rasmussen was shot three times in the Van Nuys condominium she shared with her husband John Ruetten. Rasmussen had married Ruetten three months before her death. Ruetten was known to be Lazarus’ one-time love interest.
The grant of parole is tentative and subject to review by the state’s Board of Parole Hearings in a process that can take up to 120 days, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Gov. Gavin Newsom could then allow the decision to stand, reverse the parole grant or ask the full parole board to consider the issue.
Lazarus, now 63, is serving the 11th year of a 27-year-to-life state prison sentence. She retired from the LAPD after being arrested by Robbery-Homicide Division detectives at the department’s downtown headquarters, largely as a result of DNA evidence taken from a bite mark on Rasmussen’s left forearm, which was reanalyzed in a later cold case investigation.
Rasmussen’s father, Nels, had insisted shortly after his daughter’s killing that police investigate Lazarus — who had been an officer for two years at the time of Rasmussen’s death — but the case went cold until 2004 when investigators with the LAPD’s Cold Case Unit reopened the investigation and asked the coroner’s office to locate the bite mark tissue sample, which had been stored since 1986, according to a 2015 ruling by a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal that upheld Lazarus’ conviction.
The appellate court panel noted in its ruling that Lazarus’ DNA profile “precisely matched the profile of the person who bit Rasmussen shortly before her death.”
Lazarus had a “compelling motive to kill Rasmussen” because she had been abruptly dropped by Ruetten when he met his future wife, and Lazarus had confronted Rasmussen at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, the justices noted in the 78-page ruling.
Ruetten and Rasmussen were married in November 1985, a few months after Lazarus wrote Ruetten’s mother that she was “truly in love with John,” the appellate court panel noted.
“The evidence of motive and the circumstantial evidence, combined with the presence of appellant’s DNA on a wound inflicted on the victim during her struggles with her assailant, provided convincing evidence of appellant’s guilt,” Associate Justice Nora Manella wrote in the panel’s 2015 ruling.

First published in the November 25 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

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