Stephanie Ilene Lazarus is a former Los Angeles police detective who was convicted in March 2012 of the 1986 first-degree murder of her ex-boyfriend's new wife, Sherri Rasmussen. Lazarus is serving a 27-year to life sentence for the offense at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, California. Her case made national headlines.
On February 24, 1986, Sherri Rasmussen, a critical care nurse was living in a condominium with her new husband, and Stephanie Lazarus' ex-boyfriend, John Ruetten. That night, Ruetten found his new wife beaten to death, and shot numerous times with a .38 caliber revolver.
The crime was initially deemed to be a robbery gone awry, as Rasmussen's BMW was stolen. The initial suspects were two Latino men who were believed to have committed other burglaries in Rasmussen's neighborhood. Lazarus was also a suspect in the initial investigation, but was later cleared. Rasmussen's family still believed Lazarus was involved, as they had both dated Ruetten and Lazarus had once showed up at the Glendale Adventist Medical Center where Rasmussen worked and threatened her, supposedly stating: "If I can't have John, then nobody else will." In the meantime, Lazarus continued working with the Los Angeles Police Department; she went on to start her own private investigation firm, Unique Investigations.
Twenty-three years after the murder of Sherri Rasmussen, the case was still unsolved. In February 2009, however, a cold case detective squad decided to re-investigate the case. Investigators discovered female DNA from a bite mark on Rasmussen's body, and Stephanie Lazarus became the prime suspect. After the detectives were able to match Lazarus' DNA with the DNA found on Rasmussen's body, Lazarus was arrested for the murder on June 5, 2009. She was then allowed to retire early from the LAPD; she was held in the Los Angeles County Jail with a $10 million bail.
Stephanie Lazarus' murder trial began in early 2012. Prosecutors believed Lazarus' motive for the murder was jealousy over Sherri Rasmussen's relationship with her ex-boyfriend, John Ruetten. The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Shannon Presby stated, "A bite, a bullet, a gun barrel and a broken heart. That’s the evidence that will prove to you that defendant Stephanie Lazarus murdered Sherri Rasmussen.
Lazarus' attorney, Mark Overland, argued that the investigation into Rasmussen's death was botched from the beginning, and the evidence collected did not point to Lazarus as Rasmussen's killer.
On March 8, 2012, Lazarus was convicted of Rasmussen's murder in the first-degree. She was later sentenced in May 2012 to 27 years to life in prison, and she is currently serving her sentence at the Central California Women's Facility. She will be eligible for parole in 2039.
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