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Victim's Family Fights Release of Ex-Detective Found Guilty of Murder: "She Lied for Decades"

Former L.A.P.D. detective Stephanie Lazarus was linked to the murder by a bite mark on the victim's remains.

By Cydney Contreras

A former Los Angeles Police Department detective was granted parole late last year after serving 15 years for murder. But now, her release has been delayed after the victim's family made an impassioned plea.

Back in November, a panel of parole commissioners voted that 64-year-old Stephanie Lazarus, who was convicted of murdering her ex's new wife, Sherri Rasmussen, is suitable for release after 15 years. The commissioner who oversaw the parole hearing determined that Lazarus seemed remorseful for the killing and wouldn't pose a risk if released, according to NBC News.

But at a Monday hearing a select committee of the Board of Parole Hearings voted to review the commissioners' decision. The Board wrote in its motion that a separate rescission hearing will be held to determine where the "grant of parole was improvident."

Rasmussen's sister, Connie, told NBC News through text that she's "so very happy" with the board's decision.

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Who murdered Sherri Rasmussen?

The case dates back to 1986, when 29-year-old nurse Sherri Rasmussen was beaten and fatally shot at her Van Nuys, Calif. condo. John Ruetten, her husband of three months, found her battered remains inside the condo, which was seemingly ransacked. The appearance of the crime scene led investigators to believe the murder was the result of a burglary gone wrong.

Despite a plethora of evidence, the case went cold for 15 years. Then, in 2001, L.A.P.D. Det. Cliff Shepard took a new look at the murder and sought to have a bite mark left on Rasmussen's arm, among other evidence, tested for DNA. 

"DNA was new to us. We were learning what to do with it," Det. Shepard explained in an episode of Oxygen's Real Murders of Los Angeles

Using the test results, investigators were able to eliminate suspects, eventually arresting Ruetten's ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Lazarus, then an art theft detective for the L.A.P.D. She was found guilty of first-degree murder in Rasmussen's killing and sentenced to 27 years to life in 2009.

Sherri Rasmussen featured on Real Murders of L.A

Will Stephanie Lazarus be released? What happened at the parole hearing

At the hearing on Monday, Rasmussen's sister and widower testified to the emotional turmoil caused by Lazarus' actions. 

“We’re not here today — 38 years after Sherri’s brutal murder, reliving the horror — because of an impulsive act. [It was] skillful deception and complete disregard for the suffering of others. The inmate used her police training to cover up the crime,” Ruetten said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "She lied for decades until her only option was to pursue parole."

Ruetten and Rasmussen's sisters described Lazarus as conniving and calculated, pointing out that she evaded capture for 23 years. Additionally, they noted that it was only in November 2023 that Lazarus accepted responsibility for the murder, though she claimed she never intended to kill Rasmussen, only to confront the woman, NBC News reported.

Greg Stearns, a now-retired L.A.P.D. detective, contested Lazarus' claims that the murder was not premeditated in his own testimony. 

"Stephanie Lazarus stalked her victim, chose a time and place when she knew she would have the victim alone, brought cordage to bind her, used an improvised suppressor to execute her, staged a burglary, and then disposed of the murder weapon and filed a false police report with an outside agency to explain the absence of that weapon ... Those are not the hallmarks of youthful offense. They are the hallmarks of criminal sophistication and maturity," he told the panel, per the L.A. Times report.

Meanwhile, justice reform advocates, including Jane Dorotik of the Los Angeles Innocence Project, testified that Lazarus deserves to be released on parole in light of her work with other inmates. One former inmate even described Lazarus as a "transformed person" and a personal mentor, the L.A. Times reported.

By the end of the hearing, officials moved to have Lazarus' parole delayed so the commission can hold a rescission hearing

To learn more about the case, watch Season 1, Episode 4 of Real Murders of Los Angeles on Oxygen.