Cost to house, try Byron Scherf tops $1.5 million

EVERETT — In the end, it cost more than a $1.5 million to bring Byron Scherf to trial in Snohomish County for killing a Monroe corrections officer.

Jayme Biendl was strangled Jan. 29, 2011, at her post in the chapel at the Washington State Reformatory. Scherf, a repeat rapist, was serving life without the chance of release. He confessed to ambushing Biendl as she closed up the chapel for the night. Biendl, 34, was strangled with an amplifier cord in the chapel sanctuary.

In May, more than two years after the killing, a jury convicted Scherf of aggravated murder and sentenced him to die.

Snohomish County officials continue to tally up the bills associated with housing, investigating, and trying Scherf for the prison slaying. As of late July, various county agencies had submitted more than $900,000 in bills to be reimbursed by the state Department of Corrections. More bills continue to trickle in.

The amount so far includes costs incurred by various government offices, including the county sheriff, prosecutor, corrections, medical examiner, superior court clerk and administration. Included in the total is what the defense requested for an investigator and experts to assist defend Scherf at trial.

Additionally, the two attorneys assigned to defend Scherf billed nearly $400,000 for about 4,100 hours of work, according to records recently obtained by The Herald. The Snohomish County Office of Public Defense had a separate contract with the state.

The office negotiated the rates for the two attorneys, Karen Halverson and Jon Scott. By law, a defendant facing the death penalty must be assigned two experienced lawyers. The attorneys must be specially trained to handle capital punishment cases and qualified by the state Supreme Court.

Monroe officials also billed the state nearly $300,000 in connection with the killing. Monroe police detectives led the investigation at the prison. Police interviewed more than 100 people, including corrections officers, inmates and other potential witnesses. Detectives also spent days collecting evidence at the chapel and viewing surveillance footage. Two Monroe detectives also assisted prosecutors at trial.

Scherf, 55, has spent most of his adult life in prison. He now is being housed in segregation at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. There are nine men with death sentences in Washington. The majority of those men were sentenced a decade or more ago.

It costs on average about $122 a day to house an offender at the penitentiary, corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said. That’s compared to the system-wide average of $90 a day. Older prisons with higher-security units tend to cost more, he said.

State taxpayers also will be on the hook for all of the costs associated with appeals.

Under state law, all death penalty cases require a mandatory review of the conviction and sentence by the Washington Supreme Court.

The review is in addition to any appeal Scherf brings of his conviction and sentence. Theoretically, his appeal options extend all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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