Former Los Angeles police Detective Stephanie Lazarus was ordered to stand trial for the 1986 murder of her ex-boyfriend's wife. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge, however, said she was not eligible for the death penalty.
Judge Robert J. Perry on Thursday said there was not enough evidence to support the findings of a homicide's “special circumstances” — in this case lying in wait and burglary — to make this a death-penalty case.
The 49-year-old was on active duty when she was arrested in June 5 for the Feb. 24, 1986, shooting death of 29-year-old Sherri Rasmussen. A DNA sample from Lazarus and DNA from an apparent bite mark on the victim's arm are alleged to have been a match.
At the time, cops believed the Van Nuys killing might have been a robbery: Two men had robbed a woman at gunpoint nearby days after the attack on Rasmussen. The pair would be the cops' focus. But that trail went nowhere.
Police took a look at the cold case last summer and found a connection to Lazarus: She was going out with a man who broke it off in favor of Rasmussen. A detective trailed the cop as she went on daily errands in an effort to capture a discarded cup, plate or utensil that could be used to check for DNA. The ploy was successful.
Chief Charlie Beck, then deputy chief, called the murder a “crime of passion.”
In spring Lazarus was featured in the Weekly's LA People 2009 issue. The focus was on her love of art and her passion for catching art thieves.
“I've been to Florence several times,” she said. “I started to love art when I went to Europe at 18.”
Arraignment is set for Dec. 18.
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