Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Police ignored plea to probe 'killer cop'

The parents of a woman murdered 23 years ago demanded today why it took so long for Los Angeles police to focus on one of their top detectives as a suspect.

Stephanie Lazarus, 49, is accused of killing Sherri Rasmussen, her ex-boyfriend's wife, in 1986, when she had been in the police force for two years.

When Ms Rasmussen's father told authorities after the murder to investigate an LAPD officer - the former girlfriend of his daughter's husband - he was allegedly told he was "watching too much TV".

Police have said Lazarus was not a suspect in 1986 because detectives believed that two robbers who had attacked another woman in the same neighbourhood were to blame.

The case file mentioned Lazarus because she had previously dated the victim's husband, John Ruetten. Ms Rasmussen married Mr Ruetten in November 1985 and she was killed the following February.

Lazarus made her first court appearance yesterday, calmly answering: "Yes, your honour" when a judge asked if she agreed to have her arraignment continued to July 6. She was remanded in custody.

Outside court, John Taylor, a lawyer for Ms Rasmussen's parents, said they had been rebuffed when telling detectives about confrontations between their son-in-law's ex-girlfriend and their daughter.

Mr Taylor said Lazarus first confronted Ms Rasmussen at a hospital where the victim worked and said: "If I can't have John, no-one will."

In another incident, Lazarus got into the couple's condominium and confronted Ms Rasmussen, who told her to get out, Mr Taylor said.

Ms Rasmussen was 6ft tall, athletic and capable of defusing the situation, so she did not call police but told her father she knew the woman was an ex-girlfriend of her husband, the lawyer said.

Lazarus, a specialist in investigating art thefts, was arrested last week after colleagues in the homicide unit across the hallway at police headquarters examined the long cold case and made what they say was a DNA match.

Los Angeles County prosecutors charged her with wilful, premeditated murder with the special circumstance of murder in commission of a burglary.

That makes the death penalty a possibility if she is convicted, but prosecutors have not decided whether they would seek capital punishment.

At a news conference, Mr Taylor said that days before the murder Ms Rasmussen "told her parents she had a problem she was dealing with and if she couldn't resolve it in two weeks she would come back".

The only items taken in the alleged robbery, Mr Taylor said, was the couple's marriage licence and the victim's car, which was found nearby with the keys in it.

Mr Taylor said that when the father persisted in asking police what they had found out about the ex-girlfriend after the killing, "he was told repeatedly that he'd been watching too much TV".

Mr Taylor said the fatal attack involved a struggle that moved around the condominium. Ms Rasmussen received a bite on the arm and was shot three times, including in the heart and spine, he said.

Lazarus was identified as a suspect through a DNA match of saliva taken from the bite marks, Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said.

He said investigators would interview several sources including Mr Ruetten in San Diego, California, detectives who first investigated the case and now live in Idaho, and Lazarus' family in Arizona.

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