LOS ANGELES - The parents of a woman slain 23 years ago are demanding to know why it took so long for Los Angeles police to focus on one of their own as a suspect, despite angry confrontations between their daughter and the accused veteran investigator.
Detective Stephanie Lazarus, 49, is accused of killing Sherri Rasmussen, her ex-boyfriend's wife, in 1986, when Lazarus had been on the police force for two years.
But when Rasmussen's father told authorities after the slaying to look into her husband's former girlfriend in the LAPD, their lawyer says that he was told that he was "watching too much TV."
Police officials have said that Lazarus was not a suspect in 1986 because detectives believed that two robbers who had attacked another woman in the same neighborhood were to blame.
Even so, the case file did mention Lazarus because she had previously dated the victim's husband, John Ruetten.
Rasmussen married Ruetten in November 1985 and she was killed the following February.
Lazarus made her first court appearance Monday, calmly answering "Yes, your Honor" when a judge asked if she agreed to have her arraignment continued to July 6. She was ordered held without bail.
Outside court, a lawyer for Rasmussen's father and mother said that the parents had been rebuffed when telling detectives about confrontations between their son-in-law's ex-girlfriend and their daughter.
According to attorney John Taylor, Lazarus first confronted Rasmussen at a hospital where the victim worked and said, "If I can't have John, no one will."
In another incident, Lazarus got into the couple's condo and confronted Rasmussen, who told her to get out, Taylor said.
Rasmussen was 6 feet tall, athletic and capable of defusing the situation, so she did not call police but did tell her father that she knew that the woman was an ex-girlfriend of her husband, the attorney said.
At the news conference, Taylor said that days before the murder, Rasmussen "told her parents she had a problem she was dealing with and if she couldn't resolve it in two weeks, she would come back."
The only items taken in the alleged robbery, Taylor said, was the couple's marriage license and the victim's car, which was found nearby with the keys in it.
Taylor said that when the father persisted in asking police what they had found out about the ex-girlfriend after the slaying, "He was told repeatedly that he'd been watching too much TV."
Lazarus, a specialist in investigating art thefts, was arrested last week after colleagues in the homicide unit across a hallway at police headquarters examined the long cold case and made what they say was a DNA match.
Los Angeles County prosecutors charged her with willful, premeditated murder with the special circumstance of murder in commission of a burglary.
That makes the death penalty a possibility if she is convicted, but prosecutors have not decided whether they would seek capital punishment.
Taylor said that the fatal attack involved a struggle that moved around the condominium. Rasmussen suffered a bite on the arm and was shot three times, including in the heart and spine, he said.
Lazarus was identified as a suspect through a DNA match of saliva taken from the bite marks, Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said Monday.
Beck said that investigators would interview several sources including Ruetten in San Diego, detectives who first investigated the case and now live in Idaho, and Lazarus' family in Arizona. *