Thursday may have marked a milestone in the LAPD's storied legacy of police being put on trial — with her first-degree murder conviction, Detective Stephanie Lazarus became the first active-duty LAPD officer to be arrested for and convicted of murder.
The LA Times reported that after a day and a half of deliberation, a jury found Lazarus, who had served more than 25 years in the LAPD and retired while on trial, guilty of first-degree murder, a verdict that compelled Judge Robert J. Perry to comply with state law and sentence the former detective to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The jury determined that Lazarus had brutally beaten and shot 29-year-old hospital nursing director Sherri Rasmussen three times in the chest on Feb. 24, 1986, nearly three months after Rasmussen had married John Ruetten, described by the Times as having "dated Lazarus casually for a few years leading up to the wedding." The words casually and a few years seem a tad incongruous, but, whatever the nature of Lazarus's and Ruetten's former relationship, Deputy District Attorney Shannon Presby was keen to characterize Lazarus's motive to kill Rasmussen with a William Congreve quote that has become very popular over the years amongst cads and misogynists — "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."
The scorned woman trope was conveniently on-hand to finally end what had been a 26-year-long murder investigation that pitted different generations of LAPD officers against each other. Though Rasmussen's father begged police to concentrate on Lazarus as a possible suspect, investigators at the time were convinced that Rasmussen had been killed by two male burglars. The case went cold, during which time Lazarus built a career resembling Rene Russo's in The Thomas Crown Affair as an art fraud and theft specialist until DNA testing on saliva samples taken from a bite mark on Rasmussen's neck indicated a woman. In 2009, almost three decades after Rasmussen's murder, Lazarus was arrested after undercover officers had worked furtively to obtain Lazarus's DNA sample, which proved an "unambiguous" match to the saliva taken from Rasmussen's neck.
A sad end to a story long overdo for a conclusion.
Update: Stephanie Lazarus has not been sentenced yet; her sentencing is scheduled for May 4th. She faces 25 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole plus 2 years for a gun enhancement.