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Inmate Byron Scherf wrote letters warning that he was a danger

The letters were among many that Scherf, the suspect in the killing of a prison officer, wrote to officials

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By Scott North and Diana Hefley
Herald Writers
MONROE -- The inmate charged with strangling Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl spent years barraging state officials with demands for special privileges and at least once suggested he is so dangerous that somebody, perhaps even prison staff, could get hurt if he didn't get his way.
Byron Scherf, 52, has since the early 1980s been a prolific writer of letters to Washington's governors, state lawmakers and top prison officials, including Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail, newly released records show.
Many of Washington's 16,000 inmates are big letter writers.
State officials "receive thousands of letters from inmates each year, many 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."
Scherf's letters contain threatening language, but that isn't unique, he said.
The corrections department released the letters under state public records laws. Many of Scherf's letters detail his complaints about conditions of confinement.
With equal passion and urgency, he's written top state leaders to complain about limited opportunities for exercise, restrictions on the number of books allowed in his cell and the quality of prison-approved earplugs.
Scherf in 2001 quoted scripture to support what he said were religious objections to rules that then prohibited him and other lifers from arranging conjugal visits with their wives. His most recent complaints have focused on his displeasure over 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 from 2000 to 2006, asking for sex offender treatment.
Scherf repeatedly was turned down because he is serving life behind bars without release for a 1997 rape conviction in Spokane.
Because of budget constraints, sex offender treatment only is offered to Washington inmates if they are soon to be released, Lewis said.
Scherf repeatedly insisted, however, that his was a special case and he should not just be "warehoused" or left "to rot."
To do so would be dangerous, Scherf wrote.
In an April 2002 letter to Joseph Lehman, then the state's corrections chief, Scherf quoted from a state psychological evaluation that warned he had "the potential for horrific behaviors."
Scherf said he needed treatment because "I never know from one minute to the next where my compulsions may direct me!"
The convicted rapist said he had no plans to attack anyone in the prison system "staff or offender, at this time." He made clear that it was possible, however.
There "are still opportunities for me to act (out) sexually, even in this milieu," Scherf wrote "and I DEFINITELY want to prevent that from happening (I don't want to hurt anymore (sic) people!!!!!), but I fear I currently lack the necessary tools or knowledge to do so in the long term!"
Scherf suggested that prison officials consider transferring him from the Washington State Reformatory to the state's Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. That's where people who legally have been deemed sexual predators are locked up indefinitely, receiving court-ordered treatment.
In letters back to Scherf, Vail nixed his treatment requests and refused to bend when Scherf challenged an earlier rule that prohibited lifers from receiving conjugal visits. That rule was tossed out in 2006 when Harold Clarke, then corrections secretary, re-evaluated the department's rules. Scherf's wife wrote Clarke more than once urging the rule change, and the couple have been allowed regular visits over the past five years, records show.
Prosecutors allege Scherf strangled Biendl, 34, while she worked at her post in the reformatory chapel. He'd been a volunteer there.
He's now being held at the county jail in Everett. He is expected back in court in two weeks. His attorneys plan to ask that he be allowed to wear street clothes and remain unshackled during court appearances.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne allowed Scherf to wear a suit and no handcuffs or shackles during his March 16 arraignment. The defense said that's necessary to offset "poisonous" pretrial publicity.
Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty. They expect to argue that Scherf is too dangerous to be unshackled at pre-trial hearings. He "cannot be trusted with small freedoms; he uses them as manipulations and then patiently seizes the opportunity to commit the most egregious of acts," Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Paul Stern wrote in court documents.
This observation, Stern wrote, is based on the nearly 5,000 pages of documents prosecutors have reviewed, including the "enormous amount of letters (Scherf) has written while in prison and his writings in this case."
Chuck Wright, now retired from the state corrections department, managed a group of community corrections officers who specialized in supervising sex offenders. He has spent years studying, researching and lecturing on sexual deviancy and violent offenders. Wright also worked closely with investigators as a part of the Green River Task Force.
Violent sex offenders generally are master manipulators, Wright said. Out in the community, some will use violence to get what they want. Once confined, they learn how to manipulate the system to get the power they crave, Wright said.
"We as mental health professionals teach them how to manipulate us," Wright said. "They learn what we want to hear and how they are supposed to act," in hopes of winning their freedom.
Sex offenders may ask for treatment because they know that's what is expected of them. Their intentions may not be to get help, though, Wright said.
In Scherf's case, it's likely he didn't want treatment but sought lesser restrictions and hoped to use treatment to get out of prison, Wright said. "That is a power play," he said. "Rather than grabbing a woman from behind and throwing her down, like they do in the outside world, they use the system to gain power. They throw us down that way."
Scott North: 425-339-3431,
Story tags » MonroeHomicidePrisonProsecutionSex Crimes

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