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

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Monroe in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Police: Monroe hit and run suspect arrested for 2 DUIs in 3 hours

The driver had just been arrested and released for a DUI, when he allegedly ran a red light and crashed into a pickup.

Man hurt in house fire east of Everett

The home in the 12400 block of 51st Avenue SE was reported on fire at 12:54 a.m.

A wanted suspect was arrested after a standoff with law enforcement Tuesday night. (Bothell Police Department)
Kidnapping suspect arrested after standoff in Bothell

A large police presence contained the property in the 20500 block of 32nd Dr. SE on Tuesday night.

Community Transit's Lynnwood microtransit pilot project is set to launch this fall with a service area around the Alderwood mall. (Community Transit)
Lynnwood’s microtransit test begins this fall, others possible

Community Transit could launch other on-demand services in Arlington, Darrington and Lake Stevens.

Doctor Thomas Robey sits in a courtyard at Providence Regional Medical Center on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
‘It’d be a miracle’: Providence tests new treatment for meth addiction

Monoclonal antibodies could lead to the first drug designed to fight meth addiction. Everett was chosen due to its high meth use.

Rev. Barbara Raspberry, dressed in her go-to officiating garments, sits in the indoor chapel at her home, the Purple Wedding Chapel, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Everett, Washington. The space used to be two bedrooms, but she and her husband Don took down a wall converted them into a room for wedding ceremonies the day after their youngest son moved out over 20 years ago. The room can seat about 20 for in-person ceremonies, plus it serves as a changing room for brides and is the setting for virtual weddings that Raspberry officiates between brides and their incarcerated fiancees at the Monroe Correctional Complex. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett’s oh-so-colorful Purple Wedding Chapel is in the red

Rev. Rasberry has hitched hundreds of couples over the years. After her husband died, she’s unsure if she can keep the place.

Man dies in motorcycle crash that snarled I-5 in Everett

Washington State Patrol: he tried to speed by another driver but lost control and hit the shoulder barrier.

The summit of Mt. Pugh in late July 2022. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Skagit County dentist dies in fall on Mt. Pugh near Darrington

Matthew Gifford, 56, died of blunt force injuries Aug. 13, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Friday.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Child, 3, hit and killed while playing in driveway in Snohomish

The deceased was identified as Emilio Vazquez Amaya.

Most Read