Suspect in prison officer’s slaying was bitten and bloody, warrant says

  • By Scott North, Eric Stevick and Rikki King Herald Writers
  • Tuesday, February 1, 2011 4:05pm
  • Local NewsMonroe

MONROE — Corrections officer Jayme Biendl apparently bit, scratched and clawed at the convicted rapist who is suspected of killing her Saturday inside the chapel at the Monroe Correctional Complex, a search warrant says.

Inmate Byron Scherf had blood droplets on his clothing, “bite ma

rks on the tips of his fingers” and what appeared to be scratch marks on one of his buttocks, according to documents filed in court Tuesday.

He also had “visible blood on his hands and marks across the palms of both hands” consistent with somebody using a ligature to strangle a victim, the search warrant said.

Biendl, 34, was found Saturday on the stage of the small chapel. An amplifier cord was wrapped around her neck, Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said.

Some time after the killing was discovered, a tearful Scherf came to his segregation cell door and offered an apology, court papers said.

“I’m sorry,” Scherf reportedly told two corrections officers who were watching him. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry for what happened.”

Then Scherf requested that a nurse give him a tetanus shot because he’d been bitten on the middle finger of his left hand, the search warrant said.

Detectives sought a judge’s permission to search Scherf’s body, to collect hair and genetic samples, and to take photos of him without his clothing. They are investigating Biendl’s death as a possible first-degree murder.

On Tuesday, Scherf was transferred from the Monroe prison to the Snohomish County Jail. Prison superintendent Scott Frakes arranged for the transfer while Monroe police complete their homicide investigation.

Police usually interview crime suspects in a jail environment, rather than a prison, corrections department spokesman Chad Lewis said. They decided that would be best for the investigation.

The Snohomish County Jail is operated by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

The search warrant offers more details about what happened Saturday night. It describes how Scherf, an inmate volunteer, is believed to have been the only person near Biendl while she worked alone at the chapel.

The chapel was set to close at 8:30 p.m., and the last logbook entry, presumably made by Biendl, was “recall,” meaning inmates had been ordered back to their cells.

Biendl’s post in the chapel was self-relieving, meaning when her shift ended at 9 p.m. there was nobody coming to relieve her.

Scherf was missing during a routine count at 9:14 p.m. He was found at 9:20 p.m., seated in a chair in the lobby outside the chapel. The chapel door was propped open and the light was on inside, according to the search warrant affidavit prepared by Monroe police detective Spencer Robinson.

Scherf allegedly told the officers that he had hidden under a desk and planned to “jump the wall” because he was tired of serving a life sentence without release for rape, kidnapping and assault convictions.

“I’ve had it. I plan to escape,” Scherf is quoted as having said.

One of the corrections officers told detectives there was blood on Scherf’s jacket and T-shirt. Scherf told them it was from being “jumped” by other inmates earlier that day.

He was photographed and taken to a segregation unit, and his clothing was bagged as possible evidence.

“Since inmate Scherf was located the incident was deemed to be over,” the search warrant said. “The chapel was secured with the doors closed and locked. Staff continued their assigned shift duties.”

It wasn’t until just after 10 p.m. that corrections workers realized that Biendl’s radio and handcuffs hadn’t been turned in, something officers are required to do at the end of their shifts.

Co-workers raced to the chapel and searched. They found her on the chapel stage. Her radio was discovered “a good distance from her” under some of the first row of chairs, Willis said. The radio’s microphone had been ripped from its cord.

Biendl was fully clothed, including her coat, and she still had her keys, Willis said.

Officials said there is no obvious evidence that Biendl was sexually assaulted. Scherf told a nurse he was unsure how he got the scratch marks on his buttocks. He refused to undergo any examination of his genital or pelvic region.

The detective’s affidavit noted that prison-issue pants would resist fingernail scratches, and given the suspect’s injuries, “there is evidence inmate Scherf’s pants were down at the time of the assault upon Officer Biendl. Bite marks on the hands of inmate Scherf are consistent with defensive wounds sustained by Scherf.”

Detectives have sent some of Scherf’s clothing to the Washington State Crime Lab, Willis said. She didn’t believe Scherf had spoken with investigators Tuesday. He wanted to have an attorney present, and those arrangements still were being made.

Biendl’s killing was the first on-duty death of a corrections officer caused by an inmate in the 100-year history of the Monroe correctional complex.

The death will be independently reviewed by National Institute of Corrections, an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice.

The surveillance cameras in the chapel area were working, but there was none in the sanctuary itself, where Biendl was found.

Union leaders say Biendl had safety concerns about the chapel and wanted more surveillance. The post had been staffed by a single corrections officer for at least 15 years.

In a sworn statement released Tuesday, prison Sgt. Jimmy Fletcher said Biendl placed a work order on his desk in August or September requesting additional cameras in the chapel.

“Under normal procedure, I would not be informed about whether the work order was ultimately approved or not, and I did not hear anything more about this work order after I put it in (the captain’s) box,” he said in his sworn statement provided by Teamsters Local 117.

Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail said his agency so far has found no record of the request.

“We will include that in our internal investigation that will begin immediately after local police complete their criminal investigation,” Vail said in a written statement.

According to the search warrant, two prison lieutenants searched hours of digital video recording footage but could not find any images of the attack. They did identify Scherf leaving his unit and returning during an evening meal.

The chapel is usually one of the safest places, where inmates tend to be on their best behavior, prison officials said.

The Monroe complex houses roughly 2,500 of the state’s 16,000 inmates. It is made up of five separate prisons on 340 acres, housing minimum- to maximum-security prisoners.

It has been a tough time for everyone at the prison, Lewis said. A prison cannot shut down for an investigation, and the work actually increases during a time of stress.

“Staff are feeling scared, frustrated and upset, every emotion there is, back and forth,” he said.

The reformatory inmates have been locked in their cells since Sunday. The lockdown has been modified in the prison’s other units, allowing those inmates out of their cells for meals.

Inmates, too, have been showing sorrow over Biendl’s death, he said. The corrections department has grief counselors working inside the prison.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

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