Trial starts for ex-cop accused of killing rival

NEED TO KNOW
  • Veteran LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus is charged with first degree murder
  • Lazarus is accused of killing her former lover's wife in 1986
  • Recent DNA testing led to a break in the case
Trial starts for ex-cop accused of killing rival

A cold case murder from 1986, allegedly the result of a lovers rivalry, is finally going to trial this week.

Jury selection began Monday in the first degree murder trial of Stephanie Lazarus, a former Los Angeles police detective accused of killing a former lover’s wife more than 25 years ago.

Sherri Rasmussen’s husband found her dead body in their Los Angeles home on February 24, 1986. She was badly beaten, and shot multiple times.

Detectives ran into a dead end with the investigation and eventually ruled that Rasmussen was a victim of a fatal robbery. At the time of the murder, Lazarus had only been on the force for two years.

The investigation stalled, and detectives only had a few leads with little progress until the LAPD’s cold case squad took the case in February, 2009. They discovered DNA evidence linked to the suspect was from a female, and that led to a shocking arrest in the case.

"The current investigation combined with technology available today led to the identification of Lazarus as the suspect in the case," said former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. "The investigation revealed that she had had a previous relationship with the victim's husband prior to the murder. DNA processing and analysis provided a key piece of evidence in this investigation."

The Los Angeles Times reports that one key piece of evidence in the case was a saliva sample on a cotton swab taken from a human bite mark on Rasmussen's body that was sealed in a plastic tube. That cotton swab sat in an evidence locker for more than two decades before it finally yielded crucial information to law enforcement.

When police finally arrested Lazarus, she was a veteran LAPD detective with 25 years of experience on the force.

The trial is expected to last about a month. On Monday, potential jurors will fill out questionnaires about their knowledge of the case.  They will also be questioned about any biases or hardships that could prevent them from serving on the panel.

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