Opening statements expected in Scherf trial

EVERETT — More than two years after Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl was found dead inside the chapel at the Washington State Reformatory, the trial of the inmate accused of strangling her is expected to get underway today.

Officials say it has cost Snohomish County more than $365,000 to get to this point.

Lawyers on Tuesday wrapped up jury selection. They spent a month choosing a dozen people to decide Byron Scherf’s fate. The panel also includes three alternates.

The jury is expected to hear opening statements this morning.

The trial likely will take weeks. Dozens of witnesses are scheduled to testify, including corrections officers, homicide detectives and prison inmates. If Scherf is convicted of aggravated murder, jurors then will be asked to decide if he should be sentenced to death. Prosecutors will have to prove that there are insufficient reasons to spare his life.

The defense made several pretrial attempts to strike down the death penalty as a possible punishment. The arguments attacked Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe’s decision to seek Scherf’s execution without reviewing any information prepared by the defense about why the inmate could merit leniency.

Roe announced plans to seek the death penalty the day before Scherf was arraigned. At the time, Roe said he had studied volumes of information about the convicted rapist, readily available because Scherf, 54, has been in prison most of his adult life.

On Jan. 29, 2011, Scherf was serving a life sentence under the state’s persistent offender law. He was convicted of his third strike in 1997 for the rape and assault of a Spokane real estate agent two years earlier. His other strikes also were violent crimes against women, including a 16-year-old.

Scherf confessed to killing firing of three corrections officers. Others were demoted and disciplined. Scherf, a prolific letter writer, had sent prison officials a note suggesting that any meaningful investigation would uncover why there was no officer posted between the tower and chapel during the time he admitted to slipping back to kill Biendl.

Within days of Biendl’s death, Scherf also wrote detectives and prosecutors, saying he wanted to plead guilty. He urged authorities to seek the death penalty. He wrote that Biendl’s family deserved swift justice. After being advised of his rights, he agreed to videotaped interviews with investigators. He spoke against the advice of his then-attorney.

Scherf later wrote The Daily Herald that his motivation to now fight prosecution and punishment was over being denied jail privileges he believed sheriff’s detectives promised him.

As of December, Snohomish County had billed the state Department of Corrections $365,000 to cover costs associated with the Scherf case. The amount includes services incurred by various government offices, including the county sheriff, prosecutor, corrections, medical examiner, superior court clerk and court administration. Included in the total is what the defense has requested for an investigator and experts to assist defending Scherf at trial as well as to explore why a jury should show leniency if he’s convicted.

The amount does not include fees for Scherf’s lawyers. The Office of Public Defense has a separate contract with the state Department of Corrections to reimburse the hours billed by Karen Halverson and Jon Scott.

So far, the state has reimbursed the county just under $140,000.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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