Stephanie Lazarus, who was an L.A. police detective when she killed her former boyfriend’s wife in 1986, was recommended for parole by a select committee Thursday.
Lazarus, 63, was convicted in 2012 of murdering Sherri Rasmussen, a 29-year-old hospital nursing director. After the initial investigation into Rasmussen’s death, the case went cold for 23 years. New evidence led police to reopen the case, and Lazarus was arrested in 2009. She is currently serving a prison sentence of 27 years to life at the California Institution for Women in Corona.
John Taylor, an attorney who represented Rasmussen’s parents during the trial, said the slain woman’s siblings and widower, John Ruetten, attended the parole board panel hearing Thursday, held via Zoom, during which several of them spoke. The panel hearing is part of a multi-step process for the granting of parole.
Taylor said the siblings were shocked that the board would recommend Lazarus for parole.
“She had 23 years of freedom while this family had to struggle dealing with the grief of Sherri’s death,” Taylor said.
Rasmussen died Feb. 24, 1986, in the Van Nuys apartment she shared with Ruetten.
Ruetten and Lazarus had met as students at UCLA in the 1970s, and though the two dated casually for a few years after graduating, Ruetten said in testimony during the trial that he never considered Lazarus his girlfriend.
He subsequently met Rasmussen, and they became engaged. Shortly afterward, Ruetten said, he was confronted by Lazarus, then an LAPD patrol officer, who pleaded with him not to get married. Reutten and Rasmussen wed in 1985.
The day of Rasmussen’s death, Ruetten returned home from work to find her badly beaten and with three gunshot wounds to the chest. The initial investigation determined Rasmussen died during a robbery by two men at the home, but no arrests were made.
The case was reopened in 2009 and used DNA evidence from a saliva sample taken as evidence from a bite mark on Rasmussen’s arm. The sample was found to have originated from a woman. Undercover officers surreptitiously collected Lazarus’ DNA, and she was arrested.
When the murder case finally went to trial, it garnered media attention, and Lazarus gained notoriety as a jilted lover who sought revenge.
The parole board panel’s recommendation of parole for Lazarus is the first step in the process and does not immediately grant her release. The decision will now undergo a review by the California parole board. If it passes, Gov. Gavin Newsom has 120 days to approve or deny granting parole.
If all goes off without a hitch for Lazarus, she could be released from prison in six months, according to Taylor.