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Brother of LAPD detective accused of murder criticizes judge

Steven Lazarus says the $10-million bail set in his sister Stephanie's case is 'way unreasonable.' Stephanie Lazarus was charged last year in the 1986 shooting of her ex-boyfriend's wife.

March 12, 2010|By Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein

The brother of a Los Angeles Police Department detective accused of murder broke his family's silence Friday, criticizing the judge in the case for setting his sister's bail at $10 million and saying she is struggling with health issues in jail.

Stephanie Lazarus, a 26-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, has been in custody since June, when she was arrested for the 1986 bludgeoning and shooting death of a woman who had married her former boyfriend.

At a bail hearing in December, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry raised eyebrows throughout his courtroom with the unusually high bail, saying he believed it was a "near certainty" that Lazarus, 49, would flee if granted a lower amount.

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

On Friday, following another hearing in the case, Steven Lazarus spoke to the media, calling on Perry to reconsider.

"The concept of innocent until proven guilty doesn't seem to prevail anymore," he said. The bail "is way unreasonable."

Steven Lazarus reiterated earlier comments made by Overland that the bail was exorbitant when compared with that of wealthy celebrity defendants Phil Spector and Robert Blake, who both remained free on $1-million bail during their murder trials, despite arguably having the means to flee.

The brother's comments were the first by a member of Lazarus' family since her arrest sent rocked the LAPD and garnered international media attention.

Sherri Rae Rasmussen's body was found in her Van Nuys town house on Feb. 29, 1986. Evidence at the scene indicated that Rasmussen's attacker had bound the 29-year-old nurse's wrists before shooting her three times in the torso at close range.

Months earlier, Rasmussen had married John Ruetten, who had dated Lazarus for years before meeting Rasmussen. At the time of the killing, Ruetten and Rasmussen's father told investigators that Lazarus could be a suspect. Their suspicions were largely ignored as detectives pursued a theory that Rasmussen was killed by two men trying to burglarize her home.

LAPD cold case detectives reopened the case last year, and genetic tests on a preserved saliva sample collected from a bite mark on Rasmussen's forearm showed it had been inflicted by a woman. New interviews with Ruetten and others led detectives to focus on Lazarus, who was arrested after her DNA was matched to the saliva from the bite mark.

Steven Lazarus also said his sister has not been receiving adequate treatment in jail for cancer that requires testing and adjustments to medicine every few months. He declined to specify the type of cancer or whether her condition has deteriorated while she's been in custody.

John C. Taylor, attorney for the Rasmussen family, noted Friday that higher courts had thus far flatly rejected the argument that Lazarus deserved a lower bail. "Det. Lazarus of all people can appreciate the weight given to DNA evidence and that she's facing a life sentence if convicted. She was determined to be a high-flight risk" by the courts.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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