EVERETT — The longtime wife of an inmate accused of killing a Monroe corrections officer has filed for divorce, saying that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
Byron Scherf doesn’t appear to be contesting the divorce, filed earlier this month in Lincoln County Superior Court. Scherf signed paperwork last month indicating that he was joining in the petition. He also waived any notification by the court once the break-up is finalized.
Scherf has spent most of his 24-year marriage locked behind prison walls.
The couple was married in 1988 while Scherf was incarcerated at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He then was serving a life sentence for raping and setting fire to a woman in 1981. His wife, who lived in California at the time, told authorities that she met Scherf through her church’s letter-writing ministry. The pair married after a few years of exchanging letters.
She helped Scherf gain parole in 1993. Prison officials believed that she was a good influence and had established a stable environment for him outside of prison, even helping him enroll in college and securing student loans.
Scherf’s wife was out of town in 1995 when he plotted the kidnap and rape of a Spokane real estate agent. That attack earned him another life sentence, under the state’s three-strikes law. His wife stuck with him, eventually moving from Spokane to the Puget Sound area.
The Herald is not naming the woman, who has a different last name than Scherf and earlier requested privacy.
She faithfully visited her husband in prison about once a week. Over the years, she also joined his efforts to gain extended family visits for inmates serving life, something that had previously been forbidden. She was allowed to stay overnight with Scherf in special lodgings at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe. Their last overnight visit was in early January 2011.
The woman told Monroe detectives that Scherf called her every day prior to him allegedly killing corrections officer Jayme Biendl.
Biendl, 34, was strangled with an amplifier cord Jan. 29, 2011, at her post in the prison chapel.
Scherf eventually told detectives that Biendl had said something that he considered to be disrespectful to his wife, and that was what set him off. Detectives tried to get Scherf to explain further, but he said that was between him and Biendl, according to court papers.
He also told them that during the attack, Biendl tried to reason with him and reminded Scherf that he had a wife.
Scherf said he told her, “Don’t bring my wife up ever again.”
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. The convicted rapist is expected to be back in court next month as lawyers continue to argue over whether jurors will be allowed to hear statements Scherf gave to detectives, including claims that he is responsible for the slaying. His attorneys contend that anything Scherf told detectives should be kept out of his trial, in part because they claim investigators manipulated Scherf at a time when he was suicidal and isolated from his loved ones.
The day after the killing, Monroe detectives interviewed Scherf’s wife at her home. She visited her husband at the prison just hours before Biendl’s body was found in the chapel. His wife described the two-hour visit as “normal,” and explained that they’d played games, eaten and chatted.
She also expressed concern about her husband’s health. She suggested that maybe he was having some sort of problem with medications.
“It seems so inconsistent with his character and what I know of him and I just wonder if maybe he’s having a medication reaction or if he’s taking things that are giving him strange thoughts or I don’t know,” the woman told detectives. “I’m dumbfounded.”
She visited Scherf in the weeks after the killing. Yet the divorce papers say that the couple separated on Feb. 1, 2011 — the same day Scherf was moved from the prison and booked into the county jail.
Shortly after he was moved to the jail, Scherf began meeting with detectives. In one of his last interviews, he told investigators that he wanted to talk to prosecutors about quickly resolving the case against him, citing his wife as part of his motivation.
“I’ll go in and plead guilty if they want me to. If we can just get it over because you know the media’s out there and they’re just terrorizing my family, in particular my wife. And that’s gotta stop and the only way it’s gonna stop is when this thing’s finally over,” Scherf said.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.