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Veteran LA police detective charged with murder

A veteran detective was charged with murder yesterday in the slaying of her ex-boyfriend's wife in 1986 - a crime that went unsolved for more than two decades as she rose through the Los Angeles Police Department ranks.

Detective Stephanie Lazarus, 49, could be sentenced to death if convicted of breaking into the victim's condominium on Feb. 24, 1986, and repeatedly biting, beating and shooting the woman.

Lazarus, who joined the force in 1983, was identified as a suspect through a recent DNA match of saliva taken from bite marks on Sherri Rasmussen's body, said Deputy Chief Charlie Beck.

Lazarus' husband, Scott Young, who works as a detective in the San Fernando Valley, knew nothing about the slaying, Beck said.

"None of us blames him. I don't know if he's been interviewed yet, but he will be, as will a lot of people," he said.

Lazarus was not a suspect at the time of Rasmussen's death because detectives believed that two robbers who had attacked another woman in the victim's Van Nuys neighborhood were to blame.

The case file mentioned Lazarus because she had once dated the victim's husband, John Ruetten, but investigators did not pursue her as a suspect until DNA tests recently showed the attacker was a woman.

Detectives obtained a DNA sample from their colleague in late May and arrested her Friday at police headquarters, where she worked across the hall from the homicide detectives.

Eric Rose, a spokesman for the Police Protective League, said he didn't know whether Lazarus had retained a lawyer.

Attempts to locate Lazarus' husband were not immediately successful.

Lazarus worked patrol duty in the San Fernando Valley when she joined the force. She eventually was promoted to detective and since 2006 has worked in a unit that tracks stolen art.

Lazarus was being held without bail and is scheduled for arraignment Tuesday.

Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty, district attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said.


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