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Ex-LAPD detective 1986 murder case nears end

March 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The prosecution was first to take the floor during closing arguments Monday in the murder trial of former LAPD detective Stephanie Lazarus, who has been accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend's wife in 1986.

In an appeal to the jury, the prosecution said that justice has been in the waiting in the case. They also weighed heavily on DNA evidence that linked Lazarus to the murder.

Prosecutor Paul Nunez said Lazarus might have remained free if DNA had not entered the forensic world.

"Twenty-six years ago, the defendant thought she had gotten away with it ... that she had committed the perfect crime," Nunez said.

Sherri Rasmussen, 29, was found beaten and shot to death in the Van Nuys condo she shared with her husband, John Reutten. At the time, police believed the murder was the result of a burglary gone wrong, but DNA from a bite mark linked Lazarus to the crime in 2009.

The prosecution also pointed out that Lazarus had taken the day off on the day the murder took place, owned the type of snubnosed .38-caliber revolver used in the crime and that the bullets were the same type that LAPD officers were required to use.

Lazarus has maintained her innocence throughout the investigation.

"I'm really shocked that somebody would be saying I did this," she told her colleagues in a 2009 interview. "We had a fight and so I went and killed her? I mean, come on."

The prosecution contends Lazarus killed Rasmussen out of revenge, and that she was heartbroken that Reutten had married Rasmussen.

However, the defense argued that the DNA evidence had been contaminated and mishandled in the nearly 30 years since the murder.

Defense attorney Mark Overland told juror that DNA is a matter of probabilities and not positive proof. He said the prosecution case had been "fluff and fill" but for the bite mark.

"The entire case is based on circumstantial evidence with one item of evidence as the centerpiece," Overland said.

Nunez said the DNA, whether it was deteriorated or not, belonged to Lazarus.

"Degraded DNA doesn't turn into someone else's DNA," he said. "You just get less of it."

Overland said the detectives who investigated the case in 1986 had concluded that two suspects were involved and it was a robbery gone wrong.

If convicted, 51-year-old Lazarus would face life in prison.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.