EVERETT — A judge cleared the way Tuesday for prosecutors to turn an inmate’s own words against him next year in his death-penalty trial over the killing of a Monroe corrections officer.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George Appel ruled jurors can be shown video-recorded statements of Byron Scherf taking with detectives a few days after the Jan. 29, 2011 killing of Jayme Biendl.
The judge said he was convinced Scherf had been provided adequate access to attorneys and understood the rights he was waiving when he answered detectives’ questions.
Biendl, 34, was strangled while working at her post in the Washington State Reformatory chapel. Scherf was discovered sitting outside the sanctuary. Two hours passed before Biendl’s body was found inside.
By then, Scherf already was locked down at the prison, under investigation for what officers initially thought was a bungled escape attempt.
He asked to speak with a lawyer. That happened the next morning, but Scherf’s attorneys argued that the delay violated Scherf’s rights. They said Scherf’s access to legal counsel was further compromised once he was moved from the prison and kept in isolation at the Snohomish County Jail.
Appel said testimony at a multi-day hearing this spring demonstrated that Scherf met with attorneys and knew how to reach them.
The law requires defendants to be provided swift access to legal counsel, but “as soon as feasible does not mean right now,” Appel said.
The judge late last month ruled that Scherf was not coerced into speaking to police, and that he did so despite being repeatedly advised of his rights.
The judge had left undecided until Tuesday whether detectives, jail staff and prosecutors erred in not immediately getting word to defense attorneys that Scherf had requested to meet with a lawyer or one of their investigators.
Appel said that questioning stopped when Scherf initially requested an attorney and didn’t resume until after Scherf decided to disregard their advice.
A repeat rapist, Scherf already was serving a sentence of life without release when Biendl was killed. Prosecutors intend to seek a death sentence at his trial, now scheduled for March 2013.
The months ahead promise more legal wrangling. On Tuesday, the judge scheduled hearings in July, September, October and February. Scherf’s attorneys said they intend to file a motion questioning the constitutionality of Washington’s death penalty law.
They also plan to try to keep jurors from learning the contents of Scherf’s medical records and plan to raise legal questions about the affect news coverage of the case may have had on Scherf’s ability to get a fair trial.
Scott North: 425-339-3431, firstname.lastname@example.org.