After deliberating less than eight hours, a jury on Thursday found former LAPD detective Stephanie Lazarus guilty of first degree murder for killing her ex-boyfriend's wife in 1986.
Lazarus faces 27 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole for the murder plus a gun enhancement imposed by the L.A. Superior Court jury, with sentencing scheduled for May 4.
Prosecutors alleged Lazarus was obsessed with her romantic rival, Sherri Rasmussen, and ruthlessly attacked and shot the 29-year-old nurse, then staged the scene to look like a botched robbery. Rasmussen had been married for three months to Lazarus' ex-college sweetheart, John Ruetten, who found her body at their Van Nuys condominium on Feb. 24, 1986.
Rasmussen's family held hands in the courtroom and several broke down in tears as the guilty verdict was announced. They did not speak to reporters afterward.
"This 26-year nightmare has concluded with a positive identification of the person who killed (Nels and Loretta Rasmussen's) daughter and the intent with which she did it," said attorney John Taylor, who represents the victim's family.
Lazarus sat expressionless in the courtroom and did not react as the verdict was read. Her family quickly exited the courtroom without speaking.
Her defense attorney, Mark Overland, said he felt the quick decision by the jury indicated they did not fully examine all the evidence.
"We never had a chance," Overland said.
He promised to appeal, saying he had not been allowed to present an alternative theory of the crime - that robbers had committed the murder. He described his client as "definitely disappointed."
During trial he had also raised questions about the DNA evidence, saying it was poorly
Those questions, however, did not convince the eight-woman, four-man jury.
"The verdict today illustrates the importance of DNA as an investigative tool in unsolved cases," District Attorney Steve Cooley said. "If it had not been for DNA, discovered on a swab taken from a bite mark on the victim, this case might never have been solved."
"Our hearts go out to (Rasmussen's family)," he added. "At least we brought them some justice, albeit at a very late date."
Police Chief Charlie Beck called the case "a tragedy on every level."
"Not only did the family of Sherri Rasmussen lose a wife and a daughter, a life that can never be returned, but also the LAPD family felt a sense of betrayal to have an officer commit such a terrible crime," Beck said in a written statement.
"To the family of Sherri Rasmussen, I am truly sorry for the loss of your wife, of your daughter. I am also sorry it took us so long to solve this case and bring a measure of justice to this tragedy."
When Rasmussen's body was found in 1986, detectives believed the murder had been committed by the same two men who had committed a residential burglary nearby only a month earlier. They ignored Rasmussen's father's plea to investigate Lazarus, who had been an officer for two years at the time.
The case went cold and was re-opened in 2004, when LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division cold case detectives discovered there was DNA evidence from a bite mark on the victim from a female. They uploaded the sample to a database of convicted offenders but found no match.
Then they re-examined the case again in 2009, looking at the romantic angle, as the family had urged from the beginning. They followed Lazarus around for weeks and were eventually able to retrieve a DNA sample from a drink she had discarded.
By the time Lazarus was arrested in June 2009, she had been promoted to detective, working in a unit that specializes in crimes involving art. She had married a fellow officer and adopted a daughter.
The detectives who arrested her said after the verdict they never had doubts about her guilt.
"We were very confident in everything we gathered up to that point (of the arrest)," said Detective Dan
The Rasmussen family's attorney was asked if they felt the LAPD botched the case in 1986. He deflected the question, instead just saying: "The family thinks that the LAPD did a fantastic job in 2009 in resurrecting and bringing light to this case."
Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he hoped Lazarus' crimes would not reflect poorly on the reputation of the other officers in the department.
"We appreciate the jury's service and hope that Sherri Rasmussen's family can find closure in knowing that Stephanie Lazarus will face justice for Ms. Rasmussen's murder," Izen said.
"Lazarus' crimes are deeply disturbing, but it is important to remind the public that the actions of one individual should not tarnish its trust and respect for the more than 9,900 dedicated police officers who serve and protect the community every day."
Wire Services contributed to this report.