HomeCity NewsState Pushes Back Parole Bid for Ex-LAPD Detective

State Pushes Back Parole Bid for Ex-LAPD Detective

By Terri Vermeulen Keith
City News Service

A former Los Angeles Police Department detective’s bid last week to be released from prison on parole in a murder case involving a Glendale woman suffered a setback, with the state parole board ordering a new hearing based on concerns expressed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The decision came one day after the victim’s family members objected to a parole board panel’s earlier recommendation of parole for Stephanie Ilene Lazarus, who confessed at a hearing in November that she had murdered her ex-lover’s new wife, Sherri Rasmussen. Rasmussen was a 29-year-old Glendale Adventist Medical Center nursing supervisor.
Another hearing is expected to be scheduled within four months, when a panel will review new information to determine whether there is good cause to rescind the parole grant for Lazarus or whether the prior hearing panel made a fundamental error and improperly granted parole, according to Mary Xjimenez of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
John Taylor, an attorney representing the victim’s family, said Tuesday that the family is “very pleased” that there will be a “second, more in-depth look” at whether Lazarus should be paroled.
“This was a devious, well thought-out, planned-out execution,” the family’s attorney said of the crime.
At a May 20 hearing in Sacramento, Rasmussen’s widower, John Ruetten, told the parole board that Lazarus — whom he referred to as “the inmate” — “lied for decades until her only option was to pursue parole.”
Speaking to the board remotely, Ruetten said his slain wife’s parents lost a child and her sisters lost a dear friend and confidante “because Sherri loved and married me.”
“For me, this reality and pain never subside,” he said, his voice breaking. “I respectfully request you revoke her grant for parole.”
A state parole board panel recommended parole Nov. 16 for Lazarus, an art theft investigator and 25-year LAPD veteran who was convicted in March 2012 of first-degree murder for the Feb. 24, 1986, killing of Rasmussen.
At that November hearing, Lazarus publicly admitted that she had killed Rasmussen, who was shot three times in the Balboa Boulevard condominium she shared with her husband. Rasmussen had married Ruetten, Lazarus’ one-time love interest, three months before her death.
“It makes me sick to this day that I took an oath to protect and serve people, and I took Sherri Rasmussen’s life from her, a nurse,” Lazarus said, according to a transcript of the November parole hearing. “All I could think about was getting out of there before the police showed up.”
She said she subsequently threw the gun into a bushy area off the freeway and reported her gun stolen to the Santa Monica Police Department, according to the transcript.
Lazarus did not appear before the parole board at its hearing last week. But the transcript from her parole hearing in November quotes her as saying, “I never got comfortable thinking I got away with this. … I didn’t do the right thing because I didn’t want to face the consequences of my actions. I didn’t want to go to prison.”
“… I will never, ever harm an individual like I did on February 24, 1986, when I murdered, callously murdered and heinously murdered Sherri Rasmussen,” the transcript quotes Lazarus as saying.
Newsom subsequently asked the full parole board to review the parole grant for Lazarus, who is now 64 and serving a 27-years-to-life state prison sentence.
In his April 4 request to the state parole board, the governor wrote, “I commend her for her efforts in rehabilitation and encourage her to continue on this positive path. However, I find that this case warrants the consideration of the full Board of Parole Hearings to determine whether Ms. Lazarus can be safely released at this time. … I ask the full board to determine whether her rehabilitative progress is sufficient to support her safe release.”
The governor noted that she had “evaded justice for more than two decades and did not appear to begin taking full accountability for the murder until she was finally caught,” while noting that she “has desisted from violent conduct” since the crime and “participated in and internalized targeted rehabilitative programming, signs that she has made progress in mitigating her risk factors.”
At the hearing on May 20, two of the victim’s sisters and two of her nieces joined Los Angeles police Detective Greg Stearns, former prosecutor Paul Nunez, two of the victim’s friends and an attorney representing the victim’s family in opposing the parole grant.
The victim’s sister, Connie, said she didn’t believe that Lazarus met the intent of the state’s youthful offender statute under which she is now eligible for parole, saying that Lazarus had a college degree from UCLA and had undergone an extensive psychological examination at the police academy.
Stearns told the parole board that Lazarus “stalked” her victim, chose a time and place where she would be alone, shot her to death, staged a burglary and made a false report to explain the absence of her gun.
“Those are not the hallmarks of a youthful offender. Those are the hallmarks of criminal sophistication,” the detective said, urging the board to consider a January letter sent by the Los Angeles Police Department “in opposition” to Lazarus’ parole grant.
In the letter, then-LAPD Chief Michel Moore wrote that “the LAPD adamantly opposes the parole of Stephanie Lazarus, as she represents an unreasonable threat to the public safety of the citizens of Los Angeles.”
Moore noted in the letter, “With the identification of Lazarus as the person responsible for killing Sherri, it became apparent Lazarus utilized her police training to facilitate, commit, and ultimately obscure her involvement in the crime. For 23 years, Lazarus was free to live her life without facing the consequences of her horrific actions.”
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, where the 29-year-old woman worked as a nursing supervisor, the justices noted in the 2015 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 on behalf of the panel in its 2015 ruling.
The California Supreme Court refused in October 2015 to review the case against Lazarus. After the verdict, then-LAPD Chief Charlie Beck called the case “a tragedy on every level” and apologized for how long it took to “solve this case and bring a measure of justice to this tragedy.”

First published in the June 1 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

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