EVERETT — Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said Friday he’s close to deciding whether to seek the death penalty for a convicted rapist accused of killing Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl.
Prosecutors on Friday moved the criminal case against Byron Scherf to Snohomish County Superior Court. Scherf is charged with aggravated murder for the Jan. 29 homicide.
Killing a corrections officer is an aggravating factor under state law. That paperwork doesn’t say if Roe will pursue a death sentence.
“I believe I’m close to making a decision. I have for some time been reviewing the wealth of information that is available about the defendant, owing to his many years of incarceration.”
Some of the information would argue for leniency and some would not, Roe said.
Detectives reported that Scherf has said that he believes he should “forfeit” his life for killing Biendl inside the chapel at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe.
Most recently he reportedly sent the prosecutor’s office a note with a similar message. In that Feb. 14 note, Scherf allegedly wrote: “I ask you to charge Aggravated 1st Degree Murder (w/the death penalty) at my arraignment and I WILL plead guilty! I have a moral obligation to do so. The Biendl family deserves no less. I will not put them through any more suffering than they are already enduring. They deserve swift justice and closure.”
Scherf could be arraigned as early as Wednesday, making his first in-person appearance in Superior Court.
“In the event the death penalty is sought, a plea of guilty would not eliminate the need for a special proceeding to determine the appropriate penalty,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutors Paul Stern and Ed Stemler wrote in charging papers.
That’s because only a jury can rule on whether a convicted murderer should be sentenced to die.
Scherf has been serving a life sentence for the 1997 rape and kidnapping of a Spokane-area real estate agent. He has spent most of his adult life locked behind bars for crimes against women.
The state Department of Corrections has kept a detailed log of Scherf’s behavior in prison, including an in-depth risk assessment and mental health evaluation following a 2001 suicide attempt.
Roe earlier this week said he’s reviewed a large amount of information. He met with his senior deputy prosecutors on Wednesday to discuss the case. He plans to next meet with Biendl’s family on Monday.
They already have told Roe they want Scherf to be put to death if he is convicted.
“I may well have made a decision by that time, in which case I plan on announcing my decision Tuesday morning,” Roe said Friday.
The prosecutor said he remains open to hearing from Scherf’s defense attorneys.
He also cautioned that people should remember that filing a charge is different than presenting evidence of guilt.
“Everyone is presumed innocent,” Roe said.
Scherf made a brief video appearance last month in District Court after he was booked at the jail for aggravated murder. Prosecutors initially filed a criminal complaint in District Court. Friday was the deadline for moving the case into Superior Court.
After the Feb. 24 hearing, Roe told reporters that he was giving Scherf’s defense attorneys until March 7 to provide him with information arguing for leniency.
The day before the hearing, Scherf’s lawyers filed a civil lawsuit arguing they didn’t have adequate time to provide Roe with mitigating information. They asked a judge to bar Roe from making a swift decision and asked for more time to compile information for the prosecutor to consider.
Nothing has happened with the civil case.
Scherf reportedly said that he attacked the corrections officers after he became upset with her over a conversation they’d had earlier in the night. Biendl, 34, was strangled with an amplifier cord left on the stage in the chapel.
Scherf’s prosecution could be the first capital murder case in Snohomish County since James Elledge was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1998 murder of Eloise Fitzner at a Lynnwood church. Elledge waived his rights to appeal his conviction and was executed in 2001, three years after he pleaded guilty and told a jury that he should die. Roe was one of the prosecutors on that case.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; email@example.com.