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Veteran L.A. detective charged with murder

Detective Killing
Los Angeles police detective Stephanie Lazarus is arraigned on murder charges on Tuesday.Mark Boster / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A police detective with more than two decades on the force was brought to court Tuesday in an orange jail jumpsuit to face a capital murder charge alleging she killed an ex-boyfriend's wife 23 years ago.

Detective Stephanie Lazarus calmly answered "yes" when Superior Court Commissioner Kristi Lousteau asked if she agreed to have her arraignment continued to July 6.

Lazarus, 49, is accused of killing Sherri Rasmussen, who was bitten, beaten and shot in her condominium in 1986, when Lazarus had been on the police force for two years.

Lazarus, a specialist in investigating art thefts, was arrested last week after colleagues in the homicide unit across a hallway at police headquarters examined the long cold case and made what they say was a DNA match.

Los Angeles County prosecutors charged her with willful, premeditated murder with the special circumstance of murder in commission of a burglary. That makes the death penalty a possibility if she is convicted, but prosecutors have not decided whether they would seek capital punishment.

Police officials have said Lazarus was not a suspect in 1986 because detectives believed that two robbers who had attacked another woman in the same neighborhood were to blame. However, the case file did mention Lazarus because she had previously dated the victim's husband, John Ruetten.

Parents had pointed to her
Attorneys for Rasmussen's father and mother said at a news conference outside court that the parents want answers to why it took so long for police to pursue Lazarus as a suspect.

Attorney John Taylor said the parents told the original investigators in the case that their daughter had a problem with Lazarus, who had appeared at Rasmussen's condominium in uniform and threatened her.

Taylor said the parents unsuccessfully pressed police at the time to look at Lazarus but were told investigators were pursuing the robbery angle.

Lazarus was identified as a suspect through a DNA match of saliva taken from bite marks on Rasmussen's body, Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said Monday.

"There was a significant struggle that preceded the homicide," he said.

Lazarus' husband, Scott Young, a detective in the San Fernando Valley, knew nothing about the slaying, Beck said.

"None of us blames him. I don't know if he's been interviewed yet, but he will be, as will a lot of people," he said.

Beck said investigators would interview several sources including Ruetten in San Diego, detectives who first investigated the case and now live in Idaho, and Lazarus' family in Arizona.

Detectives obtained a DNA sample from their colleague in late May and arrested her Friday at police headquarters, where she worked across the hall from the homicide detectives.

Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty, district attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said.