By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — A Snohomish County jury’s verdict to send Byron Scherf to his death is far from the last word on the convicted killer’s fate.
On Wednesday, jurors concluded that Scherf didn’t deserve to live after murdering Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl. Scherf, a twice-convicted rapist, already was serving a life sentence when he strangled Biendl, 34, in the sanctuary of the prison chapel at the Washington State Reformatory.
Under state law, all death penalty cases require intense scrutiny, including a mandatory review of the conviction and sentence by the Washington Supreme Court. With a person’s life at stake, federal and state laws recognize the need for extensive and special proceedings before imposing an irreversible punishment.
Under the state’s death penalty law, high court justices are mandated to consider a number of factors, including whether there is sufficient evidence to justify capital punishment and whether the sentence is disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. They also must determine if jurors based their decision on passion or prejudice.
The mandatory state 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.
One of his attorneys, Jon Scott, told The Herald on Wednesday that Scherf, 54, plans to pursue appeals.
The decisions made by Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George Appel will be put under a microscope.
His appellate lawyers also likely will attack Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe’s decision to seek the death penalty before Scherf’s defense team was able to provide the prosecution with mitigation material in support of leniency. Before Scherf’s trial even began, the defense mounted two major efforts to block the prosecution from seeking the death penalty citing Roe’s decision.
If Scherf’s conviction and sentence are upheld, he can seek review in federal court. He also can file a petition for his release with the state Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court. He can raise issues not addressed in the trial or during his appeal. He can make allegations that his lawyers didn’t provide him adequate representation.
Pursuing all of these legal avenues can take years.
The jury’s verdict made Scherf the ninth man with a death sentence in Washington. The majority of those men were sentenced a decade or more ago.
Jonathan Lee Gentry has been fighting his death sentence since 1991. Dozens of motions have been filed on his behalf to the state and federal courts. Cal Brown, the last man executed in Washington, sat on death row for about 17 years before he was given a lethal injection for the rape, torture and murder of Holly Washa, 21, in King County. Charles Rodham Campbell spent a dozen years fighting his execution before he was hanged in 1994 for murdering Renae Wicklund, her 8-year-old daughter, Shannah, and neighbor Barbara Hendrickson in Clearview.
After Wednesday’s verdict, Biendl’s sister, Lisa Hamm, said she plans to count the days until Scherf is dead. She acknowledged, however, that the appeals process could take years, and Scherf may die from natural causes in the meantime.
Immediately after he was sentenced, the judge signed an order to move Scherf to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Scherf was taken to the penitentiary on Thursday morning.
Men sentenced to death in Washington, by law, must be housed at the penitentiary. They live in the intensive management unit, the highest security setting in the state’s prisons. Generally they are restricted to their cells 23 hours a day. They are kept in restraints any time they are in the presence of corrections officers.
Even though he killed a corrections officer, there are no plans to house Scherf any differently than the other inmates sentenced to death, state Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said.
“It’s not unique for us to manage a high-risk population. What is unique is the crime” that Scherf is convicted of committing, Lewis said.
Inmates facing execution live in the intensive management unit in large part for their own safety, Lewis said.
“We don’t want to create a situation where someone is looking for notoriety by taking down a high-profile offender,” he said.
Before Biendl, the last Washington state corrections worker killed in the line of duty was Michael S. Erdahl, a probation and parole officer. In 1985, Erdahl was tortured and murdered. The case was never solved. Three corrections officers died in the line of duty in the 1970s, with the last one before that in 1934, according to the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation.
Biendl was the first corrections officer killed by an inmate in the 100-year history of the prison in Monroe.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.