A Los Angeles jury on Wednesday convicted former LAPD art detective Stephanie Lazarus of first-degree murder in the 1986 slaying of nursing administrator Sherri Rasmussen, who at the time had just married Lazarus’s ex-boyfriend.
During the month-long trial, prosecutor Paul Nunez told jurors that Lazarus’s “grief” as a scorned woman after a failed relationship with boyfriend John Ruetten and Lazarus’s skills as a police officer provided the “perfect cocktail” for murder.
“The motive in this case was jealousy – jealousy toward Sherri,” Nunez argued. “The ring on Sherri’s finger was supposed to be hers. It was ripped from her.”
For years, police assumed Rasmussen died during a violent robbery at her home – even though Rasmussen’s parents repeatedly told police that Lazarus had threatened Rasmussen at her workplace, telling her, “If I can’t have John, nobody can.”
However, Lazarus, now 51, was not arrested at the time. Instead, she remained with the LAPD and became one of only two detectives in the department’s elite art theft detail.
In 2009, detectives decided to reopen the case, applying DNA technology that was unavailable so many years earlier. Lazarus, now married to another LAPD detective, was followed to a Costco, where investigators snatched her soda cup from the trash and determined that her DNA matched saliva in a bite mark on Rasmussen’s arm.
During the trial last month, Ruetten, 53, tearfully testified that he had been friends and occasional lovers with Lazarus starting when they were students at UCLA.
He testified that after Lazarus learned of his engagement to Rasmussen, she summoned him to her condo, where they slept together and Lazarus said she was still in love with him.
Ruetten testified that when he came home from work on Feb. 24, 1986, his wife was dead on the living room floor, brutally beaten and shot three times in the chest.
He said he didn’t think Lazarus might be responsible, and although they slept together a couple of more times about four years later they did not develop a serious relationship.
Defense attorney Mark Overland suggested that Lazarus was innocent and that the coroner’s office framed the detective or mishandled the evidence. He called the prosecution’s case “fluff and filler that proves nothing.'”
Lazarus, who has been in jail since her 2009 arrest, faces 27 years to life in prison when she returns for sentencing on May 4.