With a Los Angeles Police Department criminalist agreeing to be deposed by lawyers for the city Tuesday in her lawsuit alleging the LAPD deliberately overlooked evidence that linked a former detective to the 1986 murder of another woman, the judge in the case said she hopes to keep the trial on track for next month.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Fujie said she wants the trial of Jennifer Francis’ lawsuit to start as scheduled Feb. 19 and that she has cleared her calendar so that can be done. She noted that the case is more than five years old.
However, John Taylor, one of Francis’ attorneys, told the judge that her goal may not be possible if his co-counsel, Matthew McNicholas and his sister, Courtney, are forced to go to trial on another case involving the LAPD that is seven years old and is before another judge.
Fujie said she wants Francis’ lawyers to let her know about the trial status of the other case as soon as possible.
Francis filed her whistleblower retaliation suit in October 2013, alleging Detective Cliff Sheppard of the Robbery-Homicide Division’s cold case unit ignored the results of DNA tests that she performed as a criminalist in the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division. Those results gained importance years later when another detective determined that then-LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus killed a romantic rival.
Francis alleges that Sheppard knew Lazarus had ties to the victim, Sherri Rasmussen, but did not want to consider her a suspect in the killing of her onetime boyfriend’s bride. Francis also claims she was told by supervisors beginning in 2005 to ignore possible evidence implicating Lazarus in Rasmussen’s slaying.
Beck was the LAPD’s chief of detectives at the time of Rasmussen’s death and made statements to the media about the case, plaintiff’s attorney John Taylor said. Lawyers for the city argued, however, that Beck knows nothing about the dispute and that the plaintiff’s lawyers had not shown there were “less intrusive” ways of obtaining the same information.
Rasmussen, a nurse, was found beaten and shot in February 1986 in the Van Nuys townhouse that she shared with her husband. Lazarus was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced in May 2012 to 27 years to life in prison.