Scherf could face death penalty in correction officers slaying
The prosecutor says capital punishment is warranted for Byron Scherf, who may face victim Jayme Biendl's family in court for the first time today.
Byron Scherf also may be facing Biendl's family for the first time.
Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe announced Tuesday that he will seek the death penalty in Biendl's killing. Roe met with Biendl's family Monday to share his decision. At a press conference Tuesday, he told reporters on that if Scherf is convicted, prosecutors will ask a jury to sentence the inmate to death.
"I believe that this community, represented by the people standing behind me, and ultimately by the jurors who hear the facts of this case, should have the opportunity of imposing the ultimate punishment if they see fit. This decision gives them that opportunity," Roe read from a written statement.
Roe was joined Tuesday by Sheriff John Lovick, Executive Aaron Reardon and the County Council. Monroe Correctional Complex Superintendent Scott Frakes also stood with Roe along with Monroe Police Chief Tim Quenzer.
The detectives who have been investigating the Jan. 29 homicide sat in the audience, behind a row of television cameras.
Roe declined to discuss the investigation or to specify why he believes Scherf is undeserving of leniency.
"We will try this case in court, and only in court," Roe said.
Instead, he explained that he considered the wishes of Biendl's family who favor pursing the death penalty. He also discussed the case with more than a dozen senior deputy prosecutors who have experience with homicide cases.
Roe said he took into account that Scherf already is serving a life sentence.
Scherf, 52, was deemed a persistent offender under the state's "three strikes" law after the 1997 rape and kidnapping of a Spokane area Realtor.
Roe said he's read thousand of pages of records from Scherf's nearly three decades behind bars. Roe estimated that his office has collected a dozen large binders detailing the inmate's life.
"I'm completely comfortable with the breadth and depth of information I have been able to review in making this decision," Roe said.
His decision happened much sooner in the complicated process than what is typically seen in capital punishment cases. Generally it can take three months to year for prosecutors to review materials submitted by the defense and make a decision, according to a 2006 Washington State Bar Association study of death penalty cases in the state.
Roe said that some of the information he reviewed would argue for leniency for Scherf.
He declined to discuss any specifics.
The prosecutor made his decision without seeing anything prepared by the defense. He said this case is unique because much of Scherf's life has been documented through his lengthy history with the courts and the state Department of Corrections.
Roe has reviewed mitigation materials presented by defense attorneys for other inmates potentially facing a death sentence.
"I cannot recall one that contained the volume of information that I have been able to review in this case. This decision is as I have said, just the beginning, though. The defendant is entitled to have a jury decide his guilt," Roe said.
Scherf attorneys Karen Halverson and Jon Scott attended Tuesday's press conference. Halverson later declined to comment.
After Roe's announcement, Scott filed a motion to remove from the court record the affidavit of probable of cause that prosecutors filed with the charge March 11. He argued that the six-page document "served no function but to poison the pool of jurors by exposing them to prejudicial information that has not been vetted for admissibility by the court."
Scott accused prosecutors of generating the document for the media "because there is no requirement within court rules that an affidavit of probable cause be filed at all."
Such affidavits are routinely filed in felony cases.
The lawyer said Scherf has lost his right to have a fair and impartial trial, and blasted media coverage of the case, particularly in The Herald.
"The bell of prejudice cannot be unrung; however, by granting this motion, the court can strike Mr. Roe's prejudicial affidavit from the record and signal to the prosecutor that such reckless action should not be taken in future cases," Scott wrote.
The attorneys also requested that Scherf be allowed to appear in court without shackles and wearing street clothes, instead of a jail uniform.
Scherf is expected today to make his first in-person court appearance since he was charged. The case has been assigned to veteran Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne. The judge on Tuesday agreed to allow Scherf to wear street clothes to his arraignment.
Scherf reportedly told authorities he wanted to plead guilty at his arraignment and believes he should "forfeit" his life. He reportedly wrote that Biendl's family deserves "swift justice and closure."
Biendl, 34, was killed in the prison chapel where she worked alone. Court papers say the corrections officer fought before she was strangled with an amplifier cord.
Scherf reportedly admitted he attacked Biendl, saying he did so because he was angry by something she said. He was a volunteer in the chapel.
"If I get a life sentence and she's (dead) then there's no punishment attached to it because I already have a life sentence," Scherf reportedly told detectives during a taped interview.
Roe said Tuesday that Scherf's wishes weren't factored into his decision.
"I am keenly aware of the gravity of this decision," Roe said. "I am also acutely aware of the effects that homicides and then lengthy court proceedings can have on victims' families and survivors. Jayme's family needs and deserves our support."
Biendl's family understands that this is only the beginning of what could be a long process, Roe said.
The state law calls for an automatic appeal of capital punishment cases to the state Supreme Court.
As the criminal case against Scherf moves ahead, prison officials have received the preliminary results of an investigation by the National Institute of Corrections, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. A full report is expected to be available next week.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; email@example.com.
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