Crime & Justice

$10 million bail set for LAPD cop accused of murder

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A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Friday set bail at $10 million for an LAPD detective accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend's wife more than 23 years ago.

Judge Robert Perry said there’s an “obvious and clear incentive” for Detective Stephanie Lazarus to flee.

He said she’s “undoubtedly aware” that she would spend the rest of her life in prison if convicted of murdering Sherri Rasmussen.

The 49-year-old woman had been jailed without bail following her June 5 arrest for the Feb. 24, 1986, slaying of Rasmussen, a 29-year-old Glendale Adventist Medical Center nursing supervisor who was shot three times in the chest and badly beaten in her Van Nuys townhome.

The judge ruled Dec. 10 there was sufficient evidence to require Lazarus to proceed to trial on the murder charge. But he determined there was ``insufficient'' evidence to support two special circumstance allegations -- murder while lying in wait and murder during the commission of a burglary -- under which a defendant can be held without bail.

Lazarus' attorney, Mark Overland, told reporters outside court that the $10 million cash bail is ``basically preventive detention,'' and the judge ``essentially granted no bail.''

He said he intended to ask a state appellate court panel to review the matter, calling the new bail amount ``ridiculous.''

``Phil Spector gets out on $1 million bail. (Robert) Blake gets out on $1 million bail,'' Overland said of two prominent murder cases in which well- known defendants were freed from custody.

Lazarus' attorney had been asking the judge to set bail at an amount between $300,000 and $500,000, while the prosecution was asking for $5 million bail.

Lazarus is due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom on Jan. 25 for a pretrial hearing. The judge said he wanted to target the first or second quarter of 2010 for her trial, but Overland said he didn't think that was likely.

Without the special circumstance allegations that could carry a possible death sentence, Lazarus is facing a maximum 27-year-to-life term on the murder charge and a gun use allegation.

Lazarus had been a police officer for two years at the time of the slaying and been on the force for 25 years when she was arrested at the police department's downtown Los Angeles headquarters. She was assigned at the time to the LAPD's art theft unit.

Lazarus -- who is married to a fellow LAPD detective and has an adopted 3-year-old daughter -- was charged June 8 with the murder charge, and was ordered the following month to give a dental impression that prosecutors sought to compare to an apparent bite mark on the victim's arm.

A Los Angeles Police Department criminalist who examined a DNA sample from Lazarus and DNA from the mark on the victim's arm testified last week that they matched.

The combination of those genetic markers is found in one in 402 quadrillion people, LAPD criminalist Jennifer Butterworth told the judge.

KPCC Wire Services contributed to this report