Police reports detail events on night of prison officer’s slaying

  • By Diana Hefley and Scott North Herald Writers
  • Tuesday, June 28, 2011 12:01am
  • Local NewsMonroe

MONROE — Accused killer Byron Scherf was cool and tried to clean his fingernails in the minutes after he allegedly strangled Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl in the prison chapel.

Scherf was found seated outside the sanctuary on Jan. 29, after he failed to show up for a cell count at

the Washington State Reformatory where he was serving a life sentence for multiple rapes.

As corrections officers approached him that night, Scherf rose to his feet and called Biendl’s name, as if he was uncertain who was there, witnesses later told detectives. Scherf then claimed he must have fallen asleep, and that Biendl had simply missed him while clearing the chapel.

“You think I’m in trouble?” he asked one of the officers as they escorted him away in handcuffs.

Scherf, 52, is now charged with aggravated murder and possibly facing the death penalty. Snohomish County prosecutors say he’s admitted killing Biendl.

Late Tuesday, under a public records request, they released more than 1,600 pages of police reports on the case. The documents provide the most detailed account so far of what happened at the prison that night and what detectives have since learned about Scherf’s behavior behind bars.

The documents focus mainly on the hours immediately after Biendl was found with a cord wrapped around her neck on the stage in the prison chapel. They are silent about any suspicion regarding how Scherf allegedly gamed the prison system to get Biendl alone.

More than an hour passed between the time Scherf was found and when prison workers went looking for Biendl.

The police reports detail the frantic efforts that her co-workers made to revive her.

Corrections officers initially didn’t see the amplifier cord wrapped tightly around Biendl’s neck. Her long hair was covering her face. One corrections officer remembered calling out her name.

“Sweetie, it will be alright. Just wake up,” the man later recalled for detectives.

One inmate who was in the chapel that evening told detectives that Biendl seemed troubled by a serious conversation she had during a personal phone call a few minutes before her shift ended. Detectives later learned the call was about a friend’s horse.

Scherf reportedly was hovering nearby while Biendl was on the phone. He asked her to accompany him down a hall to speak privately for a few minutes. She did, returned to the others and began sending inmates back to their cells, preparing to lock up for the night.

Scherf left the chapel with other inmates then headed back, claiming he’d left his hat.

The reports detail Scherf’s behavior that day, including his straying from his normal routine. He apparently cut short a visit with his wife after they argued. He didn’t show up to take his medication. He skipped a meal. His cell was reportedly found unusually tidy.

An inmate who regularly attended chapel recalled telling Scherf that he’d see him the following week.

“I don’t think so,” the inmate said Scherf told him.

On the other hand, Scherf’s jogging partner, convicted wife-killer Randy Roth, said Scherf asked him earlier in the day if he was going to be out running on the prison track the next day. Scherf said he’d see him out there.

One inmate told detectives Scherf had a grudge against Biendl for the cancellation of a prison program that made extra food available behind bars. Another told detectives that Scherf had called Biendl “an evil slut,” and bragged about getting to spend some time alone with her.

Investigators spoke with other women at the prison who interacted with Scherf. A chaplain reported that she was concerned Scherf had been trying to manipulate her and confronted him. She said she spoke with Biendl about her concerns.

Two chaplains also told investigators that they believe Scherf was behind an anonymous note sent to Biendl about a year ago. The note claimed another inmate was planning to sexually assault Biendl. The inmate was removed from his position as a clerk in the chapel.

The man later told a chaplain after he was fired that Scherf walked by and whispered, “I gotcha, didn’t I?”

The documents offered other glimpses into the investigation:

• After being placed in handcuffs outside the chapel, Scherf reportedly “was calm and even smiled and laughed.”

• For a time, Scherf told prison officials he was planning to escape. He then began asking for a lawyer. Prison staff thought that was strange. At that point they didn’t know Biendl was dead.

• Scherf was detained in a cell with no water so he couldn’t wash himself. Prison officials said he repeatedly picked at his fingernails and chewed on them. One corrections lieutenant told police that Scherf appeared to be licking or sucking on his fingers.

• A night shift lieutenant described how Scherf’s account changed after he was confronted about the blood on his clothing. He initially told officers that he was hit by a handball. He later said he was assaulted by a group of Mexican inmates, and that he wasn’t “on the losing end.”

More Scherf records could be released in the coming weeks.

His attorneys earlier this month asked the judge to block prosecutors from releasing about 325 pages of documents. Many of the records focus on statements Scherf reportedly gave to police after he allegedly killed Biendl at her post in the prison chapel.

A hearing is scheduled next week for Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne to decide whether those records should be made public.

The corrections department is conducting a separate internal investigation that hasn’t been completed. A third investigation by the state Department of Labor and Industries is due out at the end of July.

Reporters Rikki King and Eric Stevick contributed to this story.

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

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