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Stephanie Lazarus, ex-LAPD detective, sentenced to 27 years to life for 1986 murder

May 11, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
It was an emotional day in court, as a judge sentenced a former LAPD detective in the killing of her ex-lover's wife. Still, the victim's family says their wounds will never heal.

Stephanie Lazarus, 52, waved to her family and smiled broadly as she entered the courtroom on Friday. She was similarly upbeat as she left the courtroom, even after hearing tearful testimony about the woman she shot and killed.

Lazarus was sentenced to 27 years to life in state prison for one count of willful deliberate first-degree murder, with a special circumstance allegation. Given good behavior and time served, Lazarus was given 1,608 days credit.

She faced forward throughout her sentencing. Family members of her victim, Sherri Rasmussen, testified in tears about their loss. Not once did Lazarus glance their way, even when testimony came from Rasmussen's widowed husband - the man prosecutors say Lazarus wanted so badly that she killed Rasmussen out of jealousy.

Lazarus was found guilty in March of killing the 29-year-old nursing supervisor in 1986 in the Van Nuys townhouse she shared with her husband of three months, John Ruetten.

"The fact that Sherri's death happened because she met and married me brings me to my knees. I do not know, and fear I will never know, how to cope with this appalling fact," Ruetten said.

It took LAPD over two decades to unravel the case. Investigators initially thought burglars shot Rasmussen, and dismissed Lazarus as a suspect despite urgings from Rasmussen's family that Lazarus had a motive.

The Rasmussens have filed a civil suit against the city and LAPD.

"LAPD should want to know why it took so long, and there should be accountability for that passage of time," said John Taylor, attorney for the Rasmussens.

DNA technology, which was developed years after the crime, is what ultimately linked Lazarus to the murder. Lazarus' saliva was found in a bite wound.

"Sherri's efforts to survive, she captured the scientific evidence needed to identify her murderer. It is fitting that science is the key in this prosecution," said Rasmussen's sister, Connie.

Lazarus' family rejects the findings, saying the court was biased and Lazarus was wrongly accused. During the trial, Lazarus' attorney argued the DNA evidence from the bite mark was corrupted and not reliable evidence.

According to sentencing guidelines, Lazarus will have to complete at least 50 percent of her term before she can be eligible for parole. Given the circumstances of the case, L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley said Lazarus will likely spend the rest of her life behind bars.

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