Death sentence vacated in murder of officer Jayme Biendl

Byron Scherf killed the Monroe corrections officer in 2011. He will spend his life behind bars.

Byron Scherf (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Byron Scherf (Washington State Department of Corrections)

MONROE — The state Supreme Court officially has overturned the death penalty for Byron Scherf, the Monroe prison inmate who killed corrections officer Jayme Biendl in 2011.

The ruling Thursday formally seals Scherf’s fate.

He will die in prison, but not by execution.

The unanimous decision comes four years after Gov. Jay Inslee suspended capital punishment in Washington, for the remainder of his time in his office. Then last month, the state’s highest court tossed out the death penalty as unconstitutional.

Biendl’s family expressed sadness and anger at the decision in October.

“We are angry about the Supreme Court ruling,” the family said in a statement last month. “Jayme’s murderer was serving life without parole when he strangled her. This literally means that he got away with murder of an innocent person and that action has no consequence for him.”

Jayme Biendl, 34, was a correctional officer at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Jayme Biendl, 34, was a correctional officer at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

State justices pointed to the history of the death penalty being unequally applied — “sometimes by where the crime took place, or the county of residence, or the available budgetary resources at any given point in time, or the race of the defendant,” Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote in October.

Yet justices left open the possibility for legislators to revise the law, to make it constitutional.

In a 59-page ruling Thursday, the court rejected Scherf’s grievances about legal technicalities in the case. But the court vacated his death sentence, citing the October ruling in the case known as State v. Gregory.

Scherf, a repeat rapist, was already serving a life sentence in prison when he killed Biendl. His criminal record dated to 1973, when he broke into a home as a juvenile.

He picked up a hitchhiker in Tacoma in 1978, took her into the woods and held her down at knifepoint.

He’d held a knife to a stranger’s neck in Tacoma in 1981, raped her, poured gasoline on her and set her on fire in a blanket. She escaped.

He raped a real estate agent in October 1995, when he feigned interest in a Spokane home, showed up with a gun and rifle and abducted her. He told the woman his plan was to take her into the woods, rape her and bury her there. She lived to tell police what happened.

Scherf, 60, was sentenced to life in prison for that crime. He was housed at the state prison in Monroe, when he strangled Biendl on Jan. 29, 2011. He was the last person sentenced to death in Washington state.

That night, Biendl was working a shift alone in the prison chapel. Scherf confessed to killing her in February 2011.

“If I get a life sentence and she’s (dead) then there’s no punishment attached to it,” he told police, “because I already have a life sentence.”

Days later, Scherf wrote a letter to prosecutors.

“I ask you to charge Aggravated 1st Degree Murder (w/the death penalty) at my arraignment I WILL plead guilty!” he wrote. “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.”

His case did go to trial. Both sides said there is no question that Scherf was responsible for Biendl’s death.

The attorneys argued, however, over whether the killing was premeditated, an element necessary to be guilty of first-degree murder.

It took jurors less than an hour to convict him.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; Twitter: @snocaleb.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Police: Multi-county chase ends when suspect rams patrol car

Sheriff’s deputies initially responded to reports of a vehicle theft and hit-and-runs in Lynnwood.

Housing Hope’s playfield proposal splits planning commission

After a 3-3 vote on the land-use changes, no recommendation will be given to the Everett City Council.

Teenagers charged in trio of robberies in Snohomish County

They allegedly stole cash, cigarettes and marijuana from shops in Everett, Lynnwood and Bothell.

County grows ‘no-shooting’ zone after bullet just misses child

The Snohomish County Council voted Wednesday to prohibit shooting in two areas on Monroe’s outskirts.

COVID-19 updates about returning to school

Public Health Essentials! A blog by the Snohomish Health District.

Police: Burglars stole thousands in cash from Mukilteo home

Officers shared images of the suspects and are asking for help identifying them.

Inmate, 34, dies at the Snohomish County Jail

The sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit is investigating. There were no obvious signs of what caused his death.

Marysville offers another round of CARES Act grants

Funds are available for those who need help paying for housing or business expenses amid COVID-19.

Most Read