Jury ready to hear case against ex-LAPD detective Lazarus charged with murdering ex-boyfriend's wife

Veteran LAPD detective Stephanie Lazarus, 49, appears at the Criminal Justice Center for her arraignment on murder charges June 9, 2009 in Los Angeles.
Veteran LAPD detective Stephanie Lazarus, 49, appears at the Criminal Justice Center for her arraignment on murder charges June 9, 2009 in Los Angeles. Pool/Getty Images

A jury is ready to hear the case against a former Los Angeles police art-theft detective charged with murdering the wife of an ex-boyfriend 26 years ago.

An eight-woman, four-man panel was sworn in Friday after nearly a day of questioning by attorneys in the trial of Stephanie Lazarus. Four men and two women were chosen as alternate jurors.

Judge Robert J. Perry told the jurors to be ready for opening statements Monday.

Lazarus, now 51, is charged with the Feb. 24, 1986 shooting death of 29-year-old Sheri Rasmussen, a hospital nursing director who months earlier had married Lazarus' ex-boyfriend, John Ruetten.

Lazarus was allowed to retire after her June 5, 2009 arrest by Robbery-Homicide detectives. She has been jailed since, with bail set at $10 million.

Defense attorney Mark Overland said jurors are "not going to see Stephanie Lazarus walking around the halls" and that it is "going to be clear after a while that she's in custody."

He warned jurors that they will have to examine photos of Rasmussen after she was killed — which Overland told them are "not pleasant to look at."

The panelists were selected from 84 people who answered questionnaires about the case, whether they had read or heard about it and if they thought it was unfair to prosecute someone more than 20 years after a homicide.

A teacher who knew one of the witnesses expected to be called was dismissed, as was a woman who said she thought there were too many guns on the street.

Rasmussen was found shot and beaten to death by Ruetten on the floor of a Van Nuys condominium they shared. A bite mark was found on an arm, police said.

According to police, the killing was made to look like a break-in.

The defense is expected to take issue with DNA evidence from the bite mark to Lazarus.

Rasmussen's father has said that Lazarus should have been suspected from the start. He said he had been told that his son-in-law had been in a relationship with a police officer who had threatened his daughter.

Police pensions are generally untouchable, even when officers are convicted of serious crimes.

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