Los Angeles Police Department Detective Stephanie Lazarus was ordered to stand trial today in the 1986 slaying of a hospital nursing director who was married to Lazarus’s onetime boyfriend.
Lazarus will not face the death penalty after Judge Robert J. Perry rejected prosecutors’ argument that the slaying was committed in the course of a robbery and that Lazarus was lying in wait.
On Wednesday, an LAPD criminalist testified that the odds that DNA found in the wound of a slaying victim belonged to anyone other than Lazarus were 1 in 400 quadrillion.
Calling it an apparent “crime of passion,” authorities allege that Lazarus beat and fatally shot Sherri Rasmussen, a 29-year-old hospital nursing director, two years after joining the department.
Three months after they were married, Rasmussen’s husband returned to their Van Nuys condominium on the evening of Feb. 24, 1986, to discover his wife’s badly beaten body on the floor of the living room. She had been shot several times, police officials said.
Days after the slaying, two men robbed another woman in the area at gunpoint. Homicide detectives suspected that the pair also had killed Rasmussen when she came upon them burglarizing her home, according to news reports at the time. Rasmussen’s parents, newspapers reported, offered a $10,000 reward for the men’s capture.
The search for the men led nowhere. Like thousands of other homicides from the period, the case remained open and collected dust on storage shelves as detectives struggled to keep pace with L.A.’s dramatic surge in violent crimes.
This year, cold-case detectives took a new look at the case and began to focus on Lazarus. The break came when they linked DNA found at the scene to the detective.
Defense attorney Mark Eric Overland argued that the LAPD didn’t properly handle and store DNA evidence.