Prosecutors oppose having Scherf unshackled in court

EVERETT — Prosecutors say the inmate accused of killing Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl has proven he is too dangerous to be unshackled during the court hearings.

Byron Scherf “cannot be trusted with small freedoms; he uses them as manipulations and then patiently seizes the opportunity to commit the most egregious of acts,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Paul Stern wrote in court documents filed Friday.

There is a legitimate concern for the safety of court staff and county corrections officers, who are being asked by defense attorneys to use less restraints on a man accused of killing someone in their very profession, Stern wrote.

Scherf is charged with aggravated murder in the Jan. 29 killing at the Washington State Reformatory. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Scherf, 52, already is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Stern on Friday a filed a response to the defense’s earlier motion asking that Scherf be allowed to wear street clothes and remain unshackled during all court appearances.

Defendants generally don’t wear jail uniforms or shackles during trial. The state Supreme Court overturned a death sentence in Snohomish County on the grounds that jurors saw the defendant wearing leg irons during the penalty phase of the trial.

Defendants who aren’t free on bail, however, almost always attend pretrial hearings in jail garb and restraints.

At the request of the Scherf’s attorneys, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne allowed Scherf to wear a suit and sit free of shackles or handcuffs during the March 16 arraignment.

The defense said that was and continues to be necessary to offset what they call “poisonous” pretrial publicity. They have accused prosecutors of engaging in an unethical media blitz to prejudice the public against Scherf.

“This pretrial narrative is fundamentally prejudicial to the accused’s rights to a fair trial, to the accused’s presumption of innocence, and the right of the accused to have his fate decided by an impartial jury,” wrote Jon Scott, an attorney with the Snohomish County Public Defender’s Association.

Media images of Scherf in shackles and a jail uniform will continue to perpetuate this narrative, the defense said.

Prosecutors, however, argue that judges are able to seat impartial jurors in cases that receive media attention for years.

The risks to corrections officers, to courtroom staff and to the defendant all outweigh a vague fear that some juror might be prejudiced by seeing Scherf in shackles. He’s already serving a life sentence and now facing the death penalty for allegedly killing a corrections officer, Stern wrote.

Wynne is expected to hear arguments on the motion later next month.

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

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