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Bail is set at $10 million for LAPD detective accused of murder

The amount is double what prosecutors had requested and far greater than what Stephanie Lazarus' attorneys had sought. A judge sees her as a near certain flight risk on a lower figure.

December 19, 2009|By Joel Rubin
  • Stephanie Lazarus, seen in court in June, showed a rare sign of emotion Friday as her head fell in disappointment when a judge set her bail unusually high.
Stephanie Lazarus, seen in court in June, showed a rare sign of emotion Friday… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

The judge in the Stephanie Lazarus trial set bail for the LAPD detective accused of murder at $10 million Friday, saying he believed it was a "near certainty" she would flee if granted a lower amount.

Lazarus, a 26-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, is accused of the 1986 bludgeoning and shooting death of a woman who had married Lazarus' former boyfriend.

Lazarus, 49, was arrested earlier this year after LAPD cold-case detectives reexamined the killing and linked their colleague to it through a saliva sample that had been found in a bite mark on the victim.

The unusually high bail, which Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry compounded, Lazarus' attorney said, by requiring it to be presented in cash, sent a wave of gasps through the courtroom.

Lazarus showed a rare sign of emotion as her head fell in disappointment.

Afterward, her attorney, Mark Overland, said his client had no way to amass the money -- meaning she will remain in detention until her trial, which is not likely to begin for several months.

The amount was double what prosecutors had requested and far greater than the $300,000 to $500,000 that Overland had sought.

In leading up to his announcement, Perry summarized the reasoning behind his decision.

Calling it "an admittedly unusual case," he said prosecutors had presented "compelling evidence" at a preliminary hearing that spoke to Lazarus' "motive, means, opportunity and identity."

He added that Lazarus, if freed on bail, would have access to weapons through her husband, who also is an LAPD detective, and could be a risk to herself and others.

The most pressing issue, Perry said, was the "strong incentive" he concluded that Lazarus has to flee and the likelihood that she would, in fact, bolt.

The usually even-keeled Overland reacted with dismay in comments afterward, saying he interpreted Perry's decision as a de facto denial of bail and plans to appeal the amount.

"It's ridiculous. Phil Spector gets $1-million bail? Robert Blake gets $1-million bail? They've got the money to go anywhere," he said, referring to the celebrity music producer and actor, respectively, who were tried in recent years on murder charges.

Lazarus "doesn't have the money," he said. "Who has $10 million cash?"

Perry "does not know the case," Overland said, reacting to the judge's forceful comments about Lazarus and the evidence against her. "He's only seen bits of it."

Sherri Rae Rasmussen, 29, was killed in her Van Nuys condominium on Feb. 24, 1986.

The original investigators on the case were convinced that Rasmussen had been killed by a pair of men who were burglarizing the home.

Detectives concluded that was incorrect when they reopened the case earlier this year and DNA tests on the preserved saliva sample collected from the bite mark on Rasmussen's forearm showed it had come from a woman.

They retraced the investigation, once again interviewing Rasmussen's parents and her husband, John Ruetten.

As they say they did at the time of the killing, the family and Ruetten told investigators about Lazarus, whom Ruetten had dated for several years before meeting Rasmussen.

Lazarus was arrested after police concluded that the DNA in a secretly collected DNA sample from her matched the genetic code in the saliva from the crime scene.

Police have maintained from the outset that Ruetten is not a suspect in the crime. If convicted, Lazarus could face up to life in prison.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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