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LAPD detective's heartache detailed

Friends, colleagues tell about how upset she became after being jilted. She is accused of killing ex-beau's wife.

December 09, 2009|By Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Stephanie Lazarus, the Los Angeles Police Department detective accused of murdering the wife of a love interest, pined for the man and grew deeply upset when he did not return her affection, according to court testimony Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege that Lazarus, a 25-year LAPD veteran, beat and shot Sherri Rae Rasmussen to death in February 1986, three months after the woman married John Ruetten, whom Lazarus had dated shortly before.

Lazarus was arrested in June, 23 years after the killing, when cold-case detectives reopened the dormant investigation and linked her to the crime through DNA tests on saliva taken from a bite mark on the victim.

On the second day of Lazarus' preliminary hearing, prosecutors called the detective's friends and colleagues to testify about the apparent heartache she suffered over Ruetten's decision to marry Rasmussen.

The testimony included recollections by Michael Hargreaves, an LAPD officer and roommate, who told about the night in the fall of 1985 when Lazarus woke him up crying and upset that Ruetten had broken up with her and become engaged. And Jayme Weaver, a former LAPD officer who worked with Lazarus, described the day Lazarus showed her a set of lock-picking tools and told her she was boning up on how to use them.

The portrayal of Lazarus as a woman desperately in love was bolstered by excerpts from a journal she kept at the time that were read aloud in court. In one entry, she wrote about waiting for 30 minutes for Ruetten to emerge from a restaurant after spotting his car in a parking lot.

During questioning of one of the original investigators on the case, Lazarus' attorney focused on a bloody hand print left on a closet door in the Van Nuys town house where Rasmussen was slain.

He asked the detective whether police had tested a sample of the blood from the print. The detective said he did not recall.

Attorney Mark Overland did not pursue the line of questioning, but should the case go to trial, he is expected to raise the notion that the blood came not from Lazarus but from some unknown killer.

Lazarus sat quietly before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry with one hand shackled to her chair. She smiled briefly a few times at her husband, who is also an LAPD detective; her mother; and other family members sitting in the courtroom.

If ordered to stand trial by Perry -- which is expected -- and convicted, Lazarus could face the death penalty.

Sitting next to Lazarus' family were Rasmussen's parents. They have been publicly critical of the detective work done at the time of the killing, saying police ignored information they provided and other evidence that should have made Lazarus an obvious suspect.

Homicide detectives broke open the two-decade-old case when DNA tests on a saliva sample taken from a bite mark on Rasmussen's forearm showed that it belonged to a woman, disproving the theory police had at the time that she had been killed by two men.

Detectives retraced the investigation, once again interviewing Rasmussen's parents and Ruetten, who led them to Lazarus.

The preliminary hearing is scheduled to resume today.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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