Years ago state psychiatrist said accused killer couldn't be cured

Years ago state psychiatrist said accused killer couldn't be cured »Play Video
Byron Scherf is seen in court in this file image.
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- More than a decade ago, a state psychiatrist said Byron Scherf had "no interest in receiving treatment in the sexual offender program," that "he stakes out his intended victims, follows them and studies their habits."

The psychiatrist diagnosed Scherf with a "severe antisocial personality and sexual deviation" and found that "even after treatment," Scherf would "continue to break the law."

Scherf, a three-strikes offender, is now accused of murdering correctional officer Jayme Biendl, who was found dead Saturday in the prison chapel at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

Scherf, who volunteered in the chapel, was found outside the chapel Saturday night after he was reported missing during a routine count. He told officers he was planning to escape, but Biendl's body was not found until an hour later after she did not turn in her equipment as scheduled. The medical examiner ruled Biendl died of asphyxia due to strangulation.

"We are in the process of doing interviews with anyone who can give us information on what really did happen that night," said Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis.

Scherf, 52, last appeared in court more than 17 years ago when he was sentenced for his third violent attack against a woman. The Spokane judge sentenced Scherf to life without possibility of parole to protect citizens against the violent offender.

Scherf's criminal history began in 1978 when he pleaded guilty to assault for an attempted rape of a 16-year-old girl in Spanaway.

Shortly after release for that crime, he was convicted again, this time for raping and then setting his victim on fire. It was at that time that a state psychiatrist examined Scherf and said he'd continue to be dangerous in the future.

Though Scherf spent more than 10 years in prison for that crime, he was convicted again just two years after his parole, this time for rape and kidnapping in Spokane.

In all three crimes, he used a knife to control his victims.

"My confidence, my sense of safety, my belief in the goodness of humanity will never be the same," said one victim.

Scherf entered the prison as a maximum-security offender, but through good behavior was transferred into the medium-security unit, Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said. Until Saturday, he had not had a violent infraction since 2001, when he tried to kill himself.

Gregoire orders independent investigation

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday called for an outside investigation into the killing of a Washington state corrections officer.

"We must find out what happened. We must take whatever steps are necessary to prevent a future incident," Gregoire said at a news conference in Olympia.

The governor also directed flags to be flown at half-staff on Tuesday in honor of Biendl.


Flowers are seen next to a photo of Jayme Biendl at a memorial outside the Monroe Correctional Complex.
"Officer Biendl made the ultimate sacrifice," Gregoire said. "She died in the line of duty while serving the people of this great state. We will keep her, her family, and her example of public service in our hearts and in our minds forever."

Gregoire said the state Department of Corrections will conduct its own investigation into Biendl's death, but she has asked the National Institute of Corrections to conduct an independent investigation to determine whether procedures were followed and if the security policies in place are adequate.

A union spokeswoman said Sunday that Biendl had complained about being the sole guard working in the chapel, but Vail said the department has yet to find records of any formal grievances or safety complaints.

"I'm not saying they weren't made," said Department of Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail. "We haven't tracked them down yet, but we will keep looking to see if we find them."

"It feels like they didn't protect her," said the victim's sister-in-law, Edie Hamm. "She was protecting us. She was doing her job for them, and they didn't do their job."

Prison officials said Biendl had with her a radio equipped with a panic button when she was attacked, but there's no indication she used it.

Vail said corrections officers did not check the chapel when Scherf was located, and there are no security cameras in the sanctuary.

"Everything we've done so far has been to focus on the criminal investigation, to take care of our staff, to respond to the family," he said, adding that investigators are still looking into whether any complaints or concerns were lodged.

Vail said the chapel has been staffed by only a single corrections officer for at least 15 years, and records did not immediately detail whether it was ever staffed by more than one guard.

Biendl's former boyfriend claims the victim had asked that cameras be installed in the chapel, but the prison denied her request due to the cost of the cameras.

"There's a lot of female officers that work in those prisons that need to be protected," said Hamm. "Something has to change."

Gregoire said there have been no staff reductions at Monroe Correctional Complex, but she wants to know whether the current staffing levels are adequate.

"The person responsible for this crime will face justice," Gregoire said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.