Lawyers take center stage in detective's trial

AP News
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Posted: Mar 05, 2012 9:26 AM
Lawyers take center stage in detective's trial

Attorneys are set to deliver final arguments in Stephanie Lazarus' murder trial, hoping to convince jurors of the guilt or innocence of the former police detective in the slaying of a romantic rival.

Lazarus is charged with the murder of Sherri Rasmussen, killed 26 years ago in a pitched battle that left the walls of her condo smeared in blood. Jurors saw photos of the 29-year-old nurse, her face bashed by her killer, her torso pierced by bullets and her arm marked by a human bite.

The prosecution contends that Rasmussen was killed by Lazarus, a woman scorned by the man who married Rasmussen three months before her death. They do not have a smoking gun, but they have DNA which has become the magic bullet for prosecutors in recent criminal cases.

Scientific witnesses testified that after the case lay dormant for two decades, a cold case unit in the Los Angeles Police Department's robbery homicide division resurrected it and found that DNA from saliva in the bite mark was a match for Lazarus.

She was ultimately confronted by her own colleagues in the department where she had risen to be an expert in art forgery cases. She denied killing Rasmussen.

A defense lawyer showed during the trial that the bite mark DNA was stored in a haphazard manner. It was extracted from swabs in an unsealed tube contained in a torn envelope at the bottom of an evidence box. Attorney Mark Overland plans to argue that the DNA was contaminated over the years. He has also challenged firearms experts on whether the bullets that killed Rasmussen could have come from a gun owned by the police officer. The gun, which was reported stolen, was never found.

Overland claims Rasmussen was most likely killed by burglars who had committed other crimes in the neighborhood.