A retired LAPD cold-case detective denied Tuesday that he ignored evidence that linked a veteran detective to the 1986 killing of a romantic rival and said he congratulated the criminalist who helped solve the case.
“You were right, I was wrong,” Cliff Sheppard said he told Jennifer Francis in an email in June 2009, right after the arrest of Detective Stephanie Lazarus.
Sheppard said he never tried to steer Frances or anyone else in the LAPD away from pursuing leads in the case that contradicted his original theory that the victim, Sherri Rasmussen, was killed by two men when she surprised them committing a burglary at her home. Sheppard said he had never heard of Lazarus before her arrest.
“The only Lazarus I knew was the one in the Bible,” Sheppard said. “I never knew she (Stephanie Lazarus) existed.”
Francis sued the city in Los Angeles Superior Court in October 2013 and her case is currently being tried before a Superior Court jury. Francis alleges Sheppard, formerly 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 Lazarus killed Rasmussen in a jealous rage.
Francis alleges that Sheppard knew Lazarus had ties to the victim and did not want to consider her a suspect. Francis also claims she was told by supervisors beginning in 2005 to ignore possible evidence implicating Lazarus in the nurse’s slaying.
Rasmussen was found beaten and shot on Feb. 24, 1986, in the Van Nuys townhouse she shared with her husband. Rasmussen had married John Ruetten, Lazarus’ one-time love interest, three months before her death.
Lazarus, a former theft investigator, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced in May 2012 to 27 years to life in prison.
Francis’ version of events leading up to her suit were outlined in a 12-page, sworn declaration she gave in 2016.
“Detective Sheppard had made it very clear to me, with his tone and language, that the LAPD detective (Lazarus) who had a prior sexual relationship with Rasmussen’s husband was not considered a suspect,” Francis said. “Initially, I remained silent about Detective Sheppard’s protection and cover-up for the LAPD detective out of fear of backlash and retaliation in the crime lab and from the department.”
But when asked by attorney Reginald Roberts Jr., who is representing the city of Los Angeles, as to whether he was upset when Lazarus was arrested, Sheppard replied, “No, I was pleased.”
Questioned further by Roberts if he was unhappy that Lazarus was sent to prison, Sheppard answered, “No, I hope she has a good time.”
Sheppard said he was extremely busy with other cases when other detectives were taking a new look into the Rasmussen killing. He said one of the other cases on his agenda was that of serial murderer Lonnie Franklin Jr., also known as the Grim Sleeper.
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