By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — Michael Boe* knelt down next to Jayme Biendl, took her hand, called her name and ordered her not to die.
“Don’t do this to us,” the Monroe corrections sergeant recalled saying the night he found his friend’s body.
Boe, a retired master sergeant with the U.S. Airforce, was one of the first corrections officers to find Biendl lying on the stage inside the chapel at the Washington State Reformatory. An amplifier cord was wound tightly around her neck.
Boe spoke about the moments that officers realized that Biendl’s equipment hadn’t been returned to the main control room — more than an hour after her shift ended on Jan. 29, 2011. A cadre of officers raced out to her post, slowing only to unlock gates.
The sanctuary was dark, quiet.
The silence was punctured by one of the men shouting two words: “Officer down.”
Thursday marked the second day in the trial of an inmate accused of strangling Biendl, 34.
Jurors learned about Biendl’s job manning the chapel post alone with up to 60 inmates at a time. They saw a photograph of her smiling, taken when Biendl was named officer of the year.
Two corrections officers also testified about Byron Scherf’s behavior that Saturday afternoon as he sat with his former wife for one of their regular visits. He is serving a life sentence without the chance of release.
The pair usually held hands, embraced and read the Bible together, corrections officers said.
That day Scherf and his wife didn’t seem to be getting along, the officers said. They weren’t holding hands. Scherf’s body language seemed off — something that correction officers are trained to observe.
They also told jurors that Scherf, 54, was the type of inmate who paid carefully attention to corrections officers’ routines.
“The inmates are always watching us, looking for weaknesses. It’s up to us to watch out for one another,” corrections Sgt. James Palmer said.
Prosecutors allege that Scherf planned to kill Biendl, taking steps to get her alone in a room not monitored by surveillance cameras and during a shift when he knew one particular officer frequently left his post near the chapel. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The defense has suggested that Scherf didn’t premeditate the homicide, telling jurors that their client said he blacked out after wrapping the cord around Biendl’s neck.
The jury on Thursday heard testimony from the officers who first realized that Biendl hadn’t left the prison.
About a half hour into his shift, corrections officer Eric Bennett noticed that Biendl’s radio and handcuffs hadn’t been checked in. He first thought she might have stayed late to fill out an incident report. He was told at roll call that Scherf had been missing from his cell at the 9 p.m. inmate count. The repeat rapist had been found sitting in the foyer of the chapel and moved to segregation. Officers were told it was a possible escape attempt.
Once supervisors were told that Biendl’s equipment was missing, they tried to reach her by phone. No one answered. They assembled a team to search for her inside the prison walls. They “bolted for the chapel,” jurors were told.
Bennett and his fellow officer Bryon McPherson entered the dark sanctuary while others checked the chapel offices. Bennett was attempting to turn on the lights at the back of the room when he heard McPherson yell from the front.
Bennett, who had never met Biendl, took her left wrist into his hand. At first, he thought he felt a faint pulse, but realized that was his own racing heart, he said.
Her skin was cold. There was a puddle of urine on the floor. Biendl’s legs and arms were stretched out, he said.
“Like she was making a snow angel,” Bennett said.
Boe told jurors he was just checking the library in the chapel when he heard McPherson’s frantic yell. He knelt beside Biendl seconds later.
He began chest compressions. McPherson started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. There was no response. They moved her head. That’s when they noticed the cord around her neck.
An emotional Boe paused, explaining that Biendl’s eyes were slightly open, lifeless.
“Jesus,” he blurted out, as prosecutors handed him photographs of Biendl’s bruised neck.
Boe explained how the men lifted Biendl up to unwrap the cord. There were purple welts on her throat. They kept pushing on her chest, giving her air. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Nothing.
Two prison nurses tried. Monroe firefighters were escorted inside. They took over, trying to restart Biendl’s heart. Nothing.
The chapel became a crime scene and Monroe police detectives began their work, corrections Lt. Jose Briones later told jurors.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Paul Stern asked him how Biendl left the prison the next day.
“In a coroner’s vehicle,” Briones said.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.