EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — A Snohomish County judge ruled Wednesday that documents containing Spokane County sex offender Byron Scherf's alleged confession to the killing of a Monroe corrections officer are public records and should not be sealed.
Washington law favors public access, Judge Thomas Wynne said, adding that in criminal cases a defendant must show he'll face prejudice if the documents are released.
"For the most part, this standard cannot be met in this case," Wynne said.
Scherf's attorneys said they plan to appeal Wynne's ruling, so it's not clear when the records may become public.
Scherf, 52, is charged with aggravated murder and could face the death penalty for the Jan. 29 strangling of Jayme Biendl in the chapel at the Washington State Reformatory. The serial rapist already was serving a life sentence when Biendl was killed.
Scherf's lawyers last month asked Wynne to order prosecutors to seal roughly 325 pages of police reports, transcripts and other records related to the investigation. The Daily Herald of Everett and other news outlets sought the documents after Scherf was charged in March.
Scherf's lawyers did not object to last week's release of about 1,600 pages of police reports about the case. Those documents described how Scherf calmly explained to corrections officers who found him alone in the chapel that he'd fallen asleep. He also reportedly was trying to clean his fingernails minutes after her death.
Scherf attorney Karen Halverson told the judge that her client's right to a fair trial would be damaged if potential jurors learn the contents of the sealed records. The documents include Scherf's alleged confession to strangling Biendl.
They also include records that for decades have been available for public inspection in courthouses where Scherf was prosecuted for earlier attacks on women, plus documents in the files of various state agencies, including the state Department of Corrections and the Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board.
Deputy prosecutor Lindsey Downs said her office was taking no position on the records requests. In her brief, she noted that courts are sometimes asked to balance dueling obligations between public access and ensuring a fair trial.
Prosecutors said they expect to be ready for trial by March or April. Scherf's attorneys said they may not be ready for trial before fall 2012.