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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: Byron Scherf

Judge: Scherf confession is open record

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.

___

Slain guard named in inmate complaints

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Newly released documents show several grievances were filed by inmates of the Monroe Correctional Complex over operations of the prison chapel in the years before corrections officer Jayme Biendl was strangled there last January.

Biendl was the subject of numerous grievances by prisoners over the years because of her enforcement of prison policies at the chapel.

The grievances, obtained by The Associated Press from the state Department of Corrections, were all dismissed as without merit.a Spokane County sex offender, has been charged with aggravated murder in the case.

But the past grievances help shed light on the pressures of working inside the walls of the state's prisons, even in a place as relatively peaceful as the chapel.

Other newly released information details an apparent grudge Scherf held against Biendl, inlcuding calling her “evil” and blaming her for the cancellation of a program that made extra food available behind bars.

Read more by clicking the link below.

Scherf warned of danger before murder

MONROE, Wash. (AP) — A Washington inmate charged with strangling a corrections officer barraged state officials for decades with letters complaining about the conditions of his confinement, suggesting at least once that he might hurt someone if he didn't get sex-offender treatment.

  Convicted rapist Byron Scherf, 52, a Spokane County sex offender, is accused of killing guard Jayme Biendl in a chapel at the Monroe Correctional Complex in January. He had been a volunteer at the chapel.

The Herald of Everett reported Thursday that newly released records show that Scherf has been a prolific jailhouse letter writer. The corrections department released the letters to The Herald under state public records laws.

In letters to officials including Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail, Scherf griped about limited opportunities for exercise, restrictions on the number of books allowed in his cell and the quality of prison-approved earplugs.

Scherf also repeatedly asked for sex-offender treatment and said he couldn't control his compulsions.

“I never know from one minute to the next where my compulsions may direct me!” he wrote in 2002.

The corrections department refused the costly treatment because it's reserved for inmates expected to be released.

State officials receive thousands of letters from inmates each year, often making requests for access to programs and change in custody, state corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said.

“Some of the letters make threats against the secretary and the governor,” Lewis said.

In 2001, Scherf quoted scripture as he argued against rules that then prohibited him and other lifers from arranging conjugal visits with their wives. His most recent complaints focused prohibitions on medium-security inmates wearing sweaters, and concerns over how the corrections department has tested his urine for signs of drug use.

The letters also document how Scherf campaigned for sex offender treatment from 2000 to 2006, which he was repeatedly denied because he is serving life behind bars without release for a 1997 rape conviction in Spokane.

In responses to Scherf, Vail denied his treatment requests and refused to change the rule that prohibited lifers from receiving conjugal visits. That rule was tossed out in 2006, and Scherf and his wife have been allowed regular visits over the past five years, records show.

He's now being held at the county jail in Everett. He is expected back in court in two weeks. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.

Past coverage: Feb. 11: Guard's alleged killer asked for prayers

Death penalty sought in guard’s slaying

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe says he'll seek the death penalty if Byron Scherf is convicted of aggravated murder in the death of Monroe prison Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl.

In announcing his decision Tuesday in Everett, Roe said jurors “should have the opportunity of imposing the ultimate punishment if they see fit.”

Biendl was strangled Jan. 29 in the prison chapel.

The 52-year-old Scherf is already serving a life sentence as a three-strikes convicted rapist. His final conviction occured in Spokane County after he kidnapped and raped a real estate agent.

Roe said he met Monday night with Biendl's family and it believes the death penalty should be sought. Roe also said he met with senior prosecutors and considered mitigating information about Scherf.

A jury also will be asked to consider mitigating information in a death penalty decision if Scherf is found guilty.

Past coverage:

Feb. 11: Officer's alleged killer asked for prayers

Judge remembers Byron Scherf well

The retired judge who sentenced a Spokane-area sex offender now suspected of murdering a corrections officer said he's “just heartsick for that poor woman.”

Retired Spokane County Superior Court Judge Neal Rielly (above) said Tuesday that he remembers Byron Scherf (right) very well and said he was struck by the man's cunning intelligence when he sentenced him in 1996.

“He was really a brilliant man from an intellectual standpoint,” Rielly said. “Time and again, he would tell the psychologist what a terrible thing he'd done and how sorry he was.”

“I just don't know how you could ever trust him,” Rielly continued. “I can't believe that anybody would ever trust him, would ever leave him alone with any woman, period.”

Scherf is accused of strangling Department of Corrections officer Jayme Biendl, the lone guard at a chapel at Monroe Correctional Facility.

Reports say he acknowledged killing Biendl and said he was angry with the way she'd spoken to him. Scherf also had asked others who attended the chapel to pray for him two days before the killing because he was struggling with temptation.

Report: Rapist admits to guard’s murder

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MONROE, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state reformatory inmate has acknowledged killing Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl in the prison chapel, saying he was angry with the way she spoke to him minutes earlier, according to a search warrant made public Friday.

The search warrant said inmate Byron Scherf, 52, a Spokane-area sex offender, acknowledged the crime to detectives Wednesday in a videotaped interview, The Herald newspaper of Everett reported.

“I'll just get right to the point. I'm responsible for the death of the correctional officer at the Monroe, uh, correctional facility,” he said, according to excerpts cited in the court papers. “I strangled her to death on Jan. 29 at approximately 8:40 p.m. in the chapel.” 

The interview came after Scherf asked detectives for a chance to tell them what happened, according to the warrant, which said he acknowledged his right to remain silent, then confessed.

Scherf's public defender, Bill Jaquette, did not immediately return a call Friday seeking comment.

Scherf reportedly told detectives he was angry at Biendl over how she had spoken with him at about 8:15 to 8:25 while he worked in the prison chapel that evening.

As he thought about it more, “I got to the point where I knew I was going to kill her,” he reportedly said.

According to the search warrant, Biendl sent the inmates back to their cells at about 8:30 and began closing the chapel. Scherf said he decided to hang back and attacked Biendl from behind, it said.

He detailed a struggle that lasted about four minutes, with Biendl trying, and apparently failing, to radio for help, in part because he disabled her communications equipment, according to the document.

Scherf said Biendl bit and scratched him and stomped on his foot trying to get free. They wound up on the ground and he used a cable from an amplifier to fatally choke her, he reportedly told detectives.

He was described as becoming emotional as he said, “I'm certainly sorry.”

Scherf since 1997 has been serving life in prison without possibility of release after being convicted of three attacks on women.

The search warrant was obtained to look for trace evidence that would be expected to have been left behind inside the chapel if the fight happened as Scherf described.

The warrant is one of several made public in the last few days. One released Thursday said Scherf had asked others who attended the chapel to pray for him two days before the killing because he was struggling with temptation.

A slideshow from Biendl's funeral is above.

Guard’s alleged killer asked for prayers

MONROE, Wash. (AP) — A search warrant issued in connection with the death of a Monroe correctional officer says the suspect had asked people to pray for him because he was struggling with temptation, the Daily Herald reported Friday.

Inmate Byron Scherf, a Spokane-area sex offender, submitted a prayer request Jan. 27, asking others who attended the chapel at the Washington State Reformatory to “pray for me for very pressing temptations I have been dealing with — I want to do the right thing but am really struggling.”  The chapel's lone officer, Jayme Biendl, was strangled Jan. 29.

Scherf, 52, is a three-strikes offender serving a life sentence for rape convictions. He volunteered at the chapel where he worked as a janitor and clerk. He's jailed in Everett for the homicide investigation.

Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said he can't discuss Scherf or the case against him until detectives complete their investigation.

Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis also said she could not discuss the case or comment on what Scherf may have told investigators.

Detectives this week identified roughly 60 more people they want to interview as part of the criminal investigation, Willis said. Many are inmates.

The search warrant made public on Thursday is one of several that have been sought in the case in recent days. Combined, the warrants shed new light on what detectives believe happened:

Surveillance camera footage from the prison shows Biendl propping open the door to the sanctuary for Scherf at 8:08 p.m. so he could get baptismal blankets. He then returned to a chapel office where he spent most of the evening. A fellow inmate brought Scherf his jacket around 8:30 p.m., closing time. The jacket had been left in the sanctuary.

An inmate told investigators that he and Scherf left the chapel at the same time the night of the killing, but Scherf said he needed to go back, claiming that he'd left behind his hat.

Click the link below to read the rest of the Associated Press story .

Prison guard’s family prepares for funeral

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — The family of slain Monroe prison guard Jayme Biendl released a statement through police Thursday saying they are devastated by the loss. 

They thank law enforcement and the community for their support but don't want to talk to media.

The family says it is focusing on memories and preparing for the memorial service at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Comcast Center in Everett.

Biendl was strangled Saturday night in the chapel at the prison.

An inmate suspected of the killing, Byron Scherf, is jailed in Everett for the investigation.

Murder suspect worked in prison chapel

The suspect in the murder of a prison guard had served as a chapel volunteer after a decade of good behavior. 

Byron Scherf, a serial rapist with ties to Spokane , told officers he was trying to escape but had changed his mind when he was found in the chapel lobby after it was noticed he was missing.

Guard Jayme Biendl's body was found an hour later, fully clothed and with no evidence of sexual assault. The 34-year-old woman had a two-way radio with an alarm, but prison officials don't know whether she tried to call for help.

Two days after Biendl's death, Gov. Chris Gregoire called for an outside investigation focused on whether there is adequate staff at the medium-security reformatory unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex, about 30 miles northeast of Seattle.

“There's a lot of grief and sorrow, and I think there are probably pockets of anger as well,” said Dan Pacholke, the Department of Corrections' deputy director of prisons.

  Union officials questioned why Biendl, a nine-year veteran of the department, was alone after complaining to prison supervisors about being the only guard working in the chapel without anyone checking on her.

Recent budget cuts have forced staffing reductions and union members have been worried about the impact on safety, said Teamsters 117 spokeswoman Tracey Thompson. 

Prison officials said staffing levels among guards who deal directly with inmates weren't down; just one person worked in the chapel for the past 15 years.

Guards always have been outnumbered by inmates, and prisons are full of people who have committed crimes as bad or worse as Scherf's, Pacholke said.

Budget cuts have forced hiring freezes among administrative and support personnel, officials said, but there's been no reduction in the number of “front-line” officers.

Scherf had not had a serious infraction since 2001, had a prison job, wasn't in a gang and had earned privileges for good conduct, Pacholke said.

Everything seemed to indicate he was “serving his incarceration in an acceptable fashion,” he said.

However, he said that did little to comfort prison staff trying to cope with their “tremendous sorrow” at the loss of a personable young woman who in 2008 had been named Monroe's corrections officer of the year.

Gregoire said Monday that in addition to the standard department review, she has asked for an outside review by federal officials at the National Institute of Corrections.

The 800-inmate unit was locked down and could stay that way the rest of the week as the criminal investigation continues, Pacholke said.

Inmate in guard’s death has Spokane ties

The inmate suspected of killing a corrections officer in Western Washington is a sex offender serving life in prison for the abduction and rape of a Spokane-area real estate agent in 1995.

Byron Scherf, 52, who has a long history of violent sexual assault, is in an isolation facility after Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl, 34, was found dead Saturday night by fellow officers in the chapel lobby of the Monroe Correctional Complex, according to the Department of Corrections.

Biendl reportedly had complained to supervisors about working alone in the chapel.

“She was feeling unsafe,” about supervising numerous inmates, Tracey Thompson, secretary treasurer for the Teamsters Local 117 that represents corrections officers, told the Seattle Times. “My understanding is there were repeated complaints.”

Read the rest of Kevin Graman's story here.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for an independent investigation into Biendl's death. Read more here.

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