Byron Scherf, 52, had since 1997 been serving a sentence of life without possibility of release under the state's "three strikes" law. His criminal history began when he was barely 20, and includes rapes, kidnapping, and one attack where he lit a woman on fire.
Scherf is being held in isolation at the Monroe Correctional Complex. Officials there say he is the prime suspect in the apparent strangulation killing of Jayme Biendl, 34.
Biendl's death is being investigated as a homicide, Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said Sunday.
Killing a corrections officer is an aggravating circumstance under Washington law governing first-degree murder. A person who is convicted can face the death penalty.
Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said his office was working closely with detectives investigating Biendl's killing.
"I know the investigators working this case and have complete confidence in them," he said. "At this point my main thoughts are about the victim, her family, the people who loved her and worked with her, and law enforcement officers everywhere who do a dangerous job and put their lives on the line every time they go to work.
"I know the investigation will be thorough, and our prosecution will be professional. But the human tragedy is what's most on my mind right now," Roe added.
Prison officials said Scherf declined to speak with them and requested a lawyer.
Scherf was a volunteer in the chapel. He told his wife that he enjoyed the work, which included helping organize files.
On Saturday, he'd received a visit from his wife.
She told investigators there was no indication he was planning to escape or wanted to hurt a corrections officer, Monroe Correctional Complex superintendent Scott Frakes said.
"The only thing he said is he had a headache," Frakes said. "Other than that, there was nothing different about his behavior."
Scherf received a life sentence for a 1995 rape and kidnapping of a woman in Spokane County. In 1997, the Spokesman-Review newspaper reported that he attacked a real estate agent after arranging for the woman to show him a house she was selling. Once inside, he grabbed a butcher knife, forced her into the trunk of his car, drove to a wooded area and raped her.
The woman later told police that Scherf said he'd planned to take her life, but changed his mind. He was arrested a few days later, high on drugs and driving erratically.
In his car was a notebook in which Scherf admitted to the rape, and said the woman "looked like a Playboy girl," the newspaper reported.
At the time of the Spokane County attack, Scherf was on parole and already had two "strikes" toward an automatic life sentence. His first "strike" was for a 1978 assault. His second "strike" was for a 1981 rape in Pierce County.
In the 1981 case, Scherf kidnapped a waitress, took her to an abandoned house, tied her up and sexually assaulted her. Before leaving, he poured gasoline on the woman and set her afire. She managed to wriggle out of a second-story window and survived, the newspaper reported.
Scherf received a life sentence for that attack, but under the laws then in effect, he won parole 12 years later.
Washington voters in 1993 adopted the nation's first "three strikes" law. It requires life sentences without release for three separate convictions of certain "most serious" offenses, almost all of them violent crimes. Two years later, Scherf was among the first 100 people to "strike out" under the law.
Herald writer Eric Stevick contributed to this report.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; email@example.com.
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