By Chris Hendrickson, Special to the Monitor
Shortly after the death of Monroe Prison Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl, her suspected killer, inmate Byron Scherf, appeared calm, his blood pressure normal, according to testimony presented in court Friday.
It was the continuation of three days of detailed testimony about the murder of 34-year-old Jayme Biendl, who was strangled with an amplifier cord while working her shift in the prison chapel the night of Jan. 29, 2011.
Opening statements began on Wed. May 1, with Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George Appel presiding.
The trial started with the deputy prosecutor for Snohomish County, Paul Stern, detailing the case against Scherf for the jury. Prosecutors allege that Scherf, 54, planned to kill Biendl, intentionally waiting until she was alone and in an area without surveillance cameras.
The allegation that Scherf planned the attack, rather than committing the crime in a fit of rage, is central to the prosecution’s case, as it will increase the likelihood that Scherf, if found guilty, will receive the death penalty.
That would make Scherf the ninth person currently on Washington’s death row. There have been five executions in the state since 1976, the most recent in 2010.
The night of the murder, Scherf was discovered missing at the prison’s 9 p.m. count, and at first was thought to have made an escape attempt. He was found outside the chapel and taken to the prison’s Intensive Management Unit.
Thursday’s testimony was focused on Biendl’s coworkers, the correctional officers who first discovered that Biendl’s shift was over, yet her equipment had not been turned in. They attempted to reach her by phone, without success. The jury heard from the officers who then found Biendl’s lifeless body on the stage in the chapel and who tried to resuscitate her.
Friday, the jury heard details and saw a video of Scherf’s behavior after the murder was discovered.
The video begins at 11:48 p.m. on the night of Jan. 29, 2011, and shows Scherf, inmate number 287281, being prepared for removal from the IMU. He was handcuffed and shackled after being strip-searched and given a “suicide smock” to wear. He was then transported by three officers, two of them maintaining physical contact with him during the entire transport, holding him at his shoulders and elbows. Scherf appeared silent throughout the transport.
Once he arrived at the hospital, Scherf was placed in a cell on the fourth floor mental health unit. Officers remove his restraints. He sat down on a low bench in the cell and lay on his back, covering his head and upper body with the suicide smock.
Martha Ndunya Schrader, the registered nurse who examined Scherf in the IMU, said he was alert, cooperative, oriented to what was going on, and was very calm.
She described a wound on his left middle finger, which appeared to be fresh and was bleeding a little. She was asked if he commented on his injury.
“He said, ‘I got bit,’” said Schrader.
She then took his blood pressure, which she described as not elevated. He indicated to her that he had ideations of self-harm, but had no self-harm plan at that time. She requested he be placed on a suicide watch.
Sgt. Kenneth McCarty, a control sergeant in the prison’s mental health unit, and Troy Matthew Hansen, a member of the prison’s emergency response team partnered on the suicide watch of Scherf.
Scherf worked as an inmate for Hansen in the maintenance department, doing clerical work. Hansen described him as very detail-oriented. The two workers sat and watched Scherf through the night, writing down all he did.
At approximately 9:32 a.m., Scherf came up to the window seeking the attention of Hansen. When McCarty responded to him, he indicated that he wanted to specifically address Hansen.
“Looking over to Mr. Hansen, he said, ‘I’m sorry for what happened out there,’” said McCarty.
When asked to describe his demeanor at this point, Hansen stated that Scherf was red-faced, and had a teary-eyed kind of expression.
At 10:08 a.m., Scherf came to the window once again, this time to request a tetanus shot, saying that he’d been bit on the finger.
Detective Spencer Robinson of the Monroe Police Department arrived at the SOU at around 3:40 a.m. to take pictures of Scherf. Robinson recalled that Scherf’s hands stood out. They were very red compared to the rest of his body, said Robinson. His left hand had an abrasion on his middle finger, and also on the interior palm in between his thumb and forefinger. The detective also noticed that there appeared to be a clear mark across the palm. It was almost like a cord or rope had been held and then squeezed down, said Spencer.
The jury was shown photos of Scherf’s hand, which showed all the injuries except for the clear mark across the palm. The camera had failed, and by the time the detective returned with functioning camera equipment, the mark was not visible, and his hands were starting to return to a normal hue, said the detective.
“They were not as bright, they had gone back to a lighter color,” said Robinson.
Testimony will continue this week, beginning with an inmate at the prison. The prosecution expects to wrap things up on either Wednesday or Thursday.
Jayme Biendl was from Granite Falls, and loved horses. She had two, an Arabian mare named Layla and her foal, Dancer. Her favorite colors were teal, silver and black. In 2008 was named Corrections Officer of the Year. She was nominated for the title by her coworkers.
Members of Biendl’s family were present in court all week. Her father, Jim Hamm, will be giving his statement sometime in the week to come. While he is happy to be finally getting some closure, so far, the trial has been very difficult on the whole family.
“It’s been terrible, just heart-wrenching,” said Hamm.