UPDATE AT 1:07 P.M.: Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George F. Appel has confirmed the jury’s death sentence for Byron Scherf for killing corrections Officer Jayme Biendl.
After Scherf declined to address the court this afternoon, Appel said to him: “Byron Eugene Scherf, I hereby sentence you to death for the murder of Jayme Biendl.” He will become the ninth man on Washington state’s death row.
Under state law, the death sentence is subject to mandatory review by the state Supreme Court.
The state Department of Corrections also issued this statement on the verdict: “Today, our thoughts are with the family of Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl. We are grateful for the completion of the trial and penalty phase of this tragic case.”
ORIGINAL POST: EVERETT – A Snohomish County jury has recommended the death penalty for a prison inmate convicted last week of killing corrections Officer Jayme Biendl in January 2011.
Byron Scherf, 54, was convicted Thursday of first-degree aggravated murder, setting in motion deliberations over whether he should face life in prison without parole or the death penalty. Jurors began deliberating his fate just before 11:30 a.m. Tuesday and returned with their verdict just after 9 a.m. this morning.
Members of Biendl’s family hugged after the jury’s verdict was announced in a packed courtroom that included numerous corrections officers.
Scherf had no noticeable reaction to the verdict.
Superior Court Judge George F. Appel will hold a hearing at 1 p.m. today to consider whether to formally impose the sentence. If Appel agrees with the jury’s recommendation, Scherf will be the first person sentenced to death in Snohomish County since janitor James Elledge, 58, was condemned in 1998 for killing a woman in a Lynnwood church and raping a second. Elledge was executed in August 2001.
Deputy Prosecutor Paul Stern told reporters, “We’re just very grateful,” citing the work of investigators and the jury’s deliberations. Biendl’s family met with reporters outside the courthouse. Biendl’s father, James Hamm, said, “A weight was lifted off my shoulders.” He wore a small replica of his daughter’s corrections badge on his lapel. Reacting to the jury’s verdict, Biendl’s sister, Lisa Hamm, said, ”I’ve been waiting 837 days, exactly, to hear those words that he got the death penalty.”
Scherf is a convicted rapist who was serving a life sentence at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe when he killed Biendl, 34, in the prison’s chapel.
During Scherf’s trial, the defense didn’t dispute that he strangled Biendl with an amplifier cord. But his lawyers suggested he didn’t plan to kill Biendl, and said he blacked out in the final minutes of her life.
The jury saw Scherf’s video confession last week in which he said he first planned to ambush and beat up Biendl over something she said to him. He refused to say what set him off.
Scherf’s DNA was found on Biendl’s fingernails. His blood was found on her coat and the amplifier cord, forensic scientists from the state crime lab testified. Scherf’s hands were bright red with an obvious mark across a palm, testified a Monroe police detective who saw him a few hours after the killing.
During the subsequent penalty phase of the trial, defense lawyers argued that Sherf had been a model prisoner over the years and had taken educational coursework, as well as self-improvement classes. He had spent all but two years of his adult life in prison. They noted he would likely serve out his sentence in 23-hour-a-day lockdown.
Prosecutors called just one witness, Biendl’s father. “There is an enormous void in our lives that will never be filled,” James Hamm said, according to a report in the Everett Herald.
Three state prison officers were fired, and four others, including two lieutenants, were disciplined for mistakes made before and after Biendl was killed.
For a list of inmates currently on Washington’s death row, click here.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report