EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — A convicted rapist accused of strangling a corrections officer with an amplifier cord in the prison chapel is standing trial on charges that could carry the death penalty if he’s convicted.
The aggravated murder trial began Wednesday in Everett for Byron Scherf. The convicted rapist already was serving a life sentence when he killed Jayme Biendl in January 2011 at the Washington state Reformatory in Monroe, Snohomish County prosecutors said.
Lawyers spent a month selecting a jury for the trial that is likely to take weeks, The Daily Herald reported.
At the time of the killing, Scherf was serving a life sentence under Washington’s persistent offender law. His third strike in 1997 was a rape and assault conviction in Spokane for an attack on a real estate agent. His other strikes also were violent crimes against women, including a 16-year-old.
There was no evidence that Biendl, 34, was sexually assaulted.
In a confession, Scherf detailed how he waited for other inmates to leave the chapel and ambushed Biendl as she locked up her post for the night. He told detectives that Biendl fought him and tried to call for help, but he ripped the radio from her.
Corrections officers found Scherf sitting in the foyer of the chapel after realizing he wasn’t in his cell during a routine inmate count. Biendl was found two hours later, after a shift officer in the main control area discovered that her radio and keys were missing.
An investigation led to the firing of three corrections officers at the prison, which is located about 25 miles northeast of Seattle. Others were demoted and disciplined.
Scherf 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 video interviews with investigators. He spoke against the advice of his lawyer.
Scherf later wrote The Daily Herald that he changed his mind and decided to fight prosecution because he was denied jail privileges he believed sheriff’s detectives promised him.
The defense made several pretrial attempts to strike down the death penalty as a possible punishment. The arguments attacked prosecuting attorney Mark Roe’s decision to seek Scherf’s execution without reviewing mitigating information prepared by the defense.
Roe said he studied volumes of information available about Scherf because the 54-year-old has been in prison most of his adult life.
If Scherf is convicted of aggravated murder, then jurors will be asked to decide the death sentence.