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Published: Monday, May 7, 2012
Scherf stopped talking when told no snacks, he says
The accused killer says jail staff who denied him privileges are to blame for his decision to stop cooperating in his case.
By Scott North, Herald Writer
EVERETT -- An inmate accused of killing a Monroe corrections officer apparently wants people to blame staff at the Snohomish County Jail for his decision months ago to stop cooperating with police and prosecutors.
Byron Scherf, 53, last week mailed to The Herald letters claiming that his decision to fight the aggravated murder charge against him was partly motivated by anger over being denied privileges behind bars that he said he was promised.
"This whole trial mess could have been over a long time ago -- if the Sheriff's Department (Police and Jail) would have lived up to their agreement," Scherf wrote in an letter dated April 28. "Had our agreement been honored by them I would have followed through! The blame rests squarely on their shoulders, not mine."
Along with the letter, Scherf included copies of correspondence he sent in early 2011 to Sheriff John Lovick and a detective assigned to the case.
Among other things, Scherf complained about not being allowed access to jailhouse snacks and other privileges, which he claimed to have been promised in exchange for cooperation with detectives investigating the killing of Jayme Biendl.
"We're done!" Scherf wrote the detective on March 7, 2011. "See you in about five years when the case finally makes it to trial -- and many years beyond, on appeal, if it comes to that!"
Scherf could face the death penalty if convicted of the Jan. 29, 2011, killing of Biendl, 34. She was strangled with an amplifier cord while working at her post in the prison chapel at the Washington State Reformatory. The repeat rapist had been serving a life sentence without possibility of release.
Scherf was moved from the prison in Monroe to the jail in Everett shortly after Biendl's body was found. He initially was confined in a suicide-watch cell but was moved within two days to a more traditional lockup, where he was kept isolated from other inmates and provided little beyond food, water and regular monitoring by corrections officers.
Scherf at the time was represented by a public defender. He apparently decided to ignore his lawyer's advice and began speaking with detectives, court papers show. He asked them for assistance in improving conditions of his confinement in the jail, including the opportunity to purchase snacks, a Bible and other reading materials, regular access to a razor, more opportunity for visits and phone calls, plus soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush in his cell.
During a Feb. 7, 2011, meeting with detectives, Scherf made clear that if his demands weren't met, there would be no cooperation.
"I want some things done, and if this doesn't happen then I, then everything's off the table," he is quoted in a transcript as saying in the meeting.
Three days later, Scherf sat for videotaped interviews with detectives, during which he described killing Biendl, an act he claimed was motivated by anger over something she'd said regarding his wife.
Those interviews and the circumstances of Scherf's confinement after Biendl's killing now are getting intense scrutiny in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Lawyers were scheduled to be in court today to continue arguing over whether jurors will hear what Scherf told detectives. His attorneys contend the information shouldn't be allowed at trial, now scheduled for the fall.
After Biendl's killing, detectives visited Scherf's jail cell over several days with a court-approved search warrant that allowed them to photograph Scherf's bruises and other injuries. Scherf's lawyers acknowledge that the detectives treated their client with decency, and the men began talking.
The detectives' conduct wasn't kindness but a ploy to manipulate their client, Scherf's lawyers contend.
"As he was denied any access to people who genuinely cared for him, he reached out for the polite hand of the detective to pull him from the abyss, to rescue him from his isolation and to give voice and reason to his suicidal ideation," lawyers Karen Halverson and Jon Scott wrote.
Halverson, Scherf's lead defense counsel, declined to comment for this story. The same was true for deputy prosecutors Paul Stern and Ed Stemler and chief Kevin Prentiss, a spokesman for the sheriff's office.
Scherf has spent much of his adult life behind bars. He has long been a prolific letter writer, particularly of messages demanding that he receive treatment different than other inmates with similar criminal histories. Over the years he's written governors, prison secretaries and corrections department staff. One Scherf letter-writing campaign was successful in getting conjugal visits for him and other lifers. Another, demanding sex-offender treatment, was rebuffed, even though Scherf warned that he could present a danger to others in prison.
Scherf early last year wrote to Sheriff Lovick, who is responsible for operation of the county jail. In the February 2011 message, Scherf made clear that he expected at some point to try to embarrass Lovick and jail staff over his decision to stop cooperating with the Biendl investigation.
"With the national media attention on this case, good luck with re-election!" Scherf wrote.
Since shortly after his arrest, Scherf has sporadically written to The Herald, mostly offering critiques of news stories about his case. Reporters haven't responded to his messages, nor have they agreed to treat his mail differently.