OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for an independent review of the murder of Monroe Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl, who was found strangled Sunday in the prison chapel.
The inmate suspected of killing her is a sex offender serving life in prison for the abduction and rape of a Spokane-area real estate agent in 1995.
At a press conference with Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail today, Gregoire praised Biendl as someone who “made the ultimate sacrifice” while serving as a state worker. She said there’s no indication the murder could be traced to recent state budget cuts, because Monroe hasn’t had any, but added: “Are we adequately staffed? That’s the question.”
Biendl was found strangled in the office of the prison chapel about an hour after she failed to turn in her radio and keys at the end of her shift. Also about an hour earlier, Byron Scherf, a rapist doing a life sentence under the three-strikes law, had been found in the chapel after the evening count. Scherf said he was planning an escape and was placed in special confinement.
Vail said corrections officers didn’t search the whole chapel when Scherf was apprehended because “they thought they had just prevented an escape.” Although Biendl reportedly had complained to prison officials that the post at the chapel wasn’t safe, that position has been a single-person post for at least 15 years, Vail said.
Monroe police are investigating the murder and the Corrections Department is doing a standard incident review, Gregoire said. But she has also asked the National Institute of Corrections for “a complete outside investigation.”
“We must find out what happened at Monroe and take whatever steps necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said. “Today is the day in which we honor the sacrifice of this young woman. I don’t want to talk about budget cuts today.”
Scherf, 52, has a long history of violent sexual assault. In 1997, a Spokane County judge sentenced him to a life sentence without chance of parole after a three-day, nonjury trial in which he was convicted of the kidnapping and rape two years earlier of a 37-year-old woman near Spangle.
Scherf, then an Eastern Washington University student, had found the woman’s picture in a Spokane Realtors catalog and lured her by saying he was interested in looking at a home for sale between Spangle and Cheney.
Once inside the home, he forced her at gunpoint into the trunk of his car and drove her to a location near Spangle, where he raped her and threatened to kill her and her daughter if she reported the attack.
He was arrested several days later in Post Falls while driving under the influence of LSD. Labeled a “persistent offender,” Scherf became the fifth person in Spokane County to be locked away under the three-strikes law.
Scherf appealed the conviction, which was upheld by the state Court of Appeals. Scherf claimed the officers who arrested him illegally seized a notebook in which he described the rape two days earlier. The appeals court ruled the officers were correct to seize the notebook after they looked in it “to find a friend or family member who could assist Mr. Scherf.”
In 1978, Scherf was convicted of second-degree assault in Pierce County and paroled after serving two years of a 10-year sentence.
In 1981, he was convicted of raping a Pierce County woman before dousing her with gasoline and setting her on fire. The woman escaped by wriggling, bound, through a second-story window.