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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Ex-LAPD detective found guilty of killing her romantic rival in 1986

LOS ANGELES — A jury Thursday found former Los Angeles Police Detective Stephanie Lazarus guilty of murdering the wife of a man who had spurned her, bringing an end to a remarkable case in which a new generation of the LAPD redeemed the failures of a past one.

After little more than a day of deliberation, the panel of eight women and four men concluded that Lazarus brutally beat and then shot Sherri Rasmussen three times in the chest on Feb. 24, 1986. Three months before the attack, Rasmussen, a 29-year-old hospital nursing director, had married John Ruetten, who dated Lazarus casually for a few years leading up to the wedding.

The case drew national attention for its sensational story line of a love-sick cop killing a woman she viewed as a romantic rival and then somehow managing to bury her dark secret. Beyond that, however, the case was a study of stark contrasts between the best and worst of the Los Angeles Police Department, leading Chief Charlie Beck to issue an extraordinary apology to the victim’s family.

“This case was a tragedy on every level,” Beck said. “To the family of Sherri Rasmussen, I am truly sorry for the loss of your wife, of your daughter. I am also sorry it took us so long to solve this case and bring a measure of justice to this tragedy. … It shows the tenacity of the detectives on the LAPD who will work tirelessly to bring a case to justice, whether that case takes them around the world or across the hall.”

Although any police officer on trial for murder is a rarity, the Lazarus case was particularly compelling. It pitted the LAPD against one of its own, forcing homicide detectives to push aside the strong familial bonds officers feel for each other and treat Lazarus as they would any other murder suspect.

The department also had to confront awkward questions about why detectives two decades ago did not pursue Lazarus, with her apparently obvious motive, as a suspect. Had they been protecting a fellow cop or was it simply sloppy detective work?

John Taylor, an attorney representing the Rasmussen family, deflected such questions, choosing instead to praise the current LAPD detectives who reopened the case.

“The family is relieved that this 26-year nightmare was concluded with the positive identification of who killed their daughter and sister.”

Lazarus, who served more than 25 years in the LAPD and retired while she sat in jail awaiting trial, showed no emotion as the court clerk read the verdict.

Because the jury found her guilty of first degree murder, state law requires that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry sentence Lazarus to life in prison with the possibility of parole. It was not immediately known when she could be eligible for parole. Perry scheduled sentencing for May 4.

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