By Chris Hendrickson
It came down to five words.
Five words that helped the state prove premeditation in the murder of Monroe Correctional Complex Officer Jayme Biendl. And proving premeditation was crucial to the prosecution’s goal of putting Scherf on death row.
Over the course of the long-awaited trial, jurors heard the details of the case that would help them decide whether Scherf planned to kill the officer, or whether he did so in the spur of the moment.
In the moments following the crime, Scherf made the job of the prosecution easy, uttering the five words that would come back to haunt him.
Detectives asked Scherf during a video-recorded confession from Feb. 9, 2011 if he knew at that point that he was going to kill Biendl.
“It was a done deal,” said Scherf.
Not that there wasn’t already ample evidence of premeditation, as jurors learned.
An inmate named Robert Price testified that in the minutes before the attack, he retrieved Scherf’s jacket, which he had left in the chapel sanctuary, and brought it to him in the chapel’s volunteer officer where Scherf doing some computer work. According to Scherf, it was at approximately 8:25 p.m.
Scherf proceeded to leave with Price, but returned to the chapel, telling Price that he had left his hat in the volunteer office.
It was a done deal.
Scherf, 54, killed Biendl at approximately 8:40 p.m. in the Monroe prison chapel on Jan. 29, 2011, strangling her with an amplifier cord.
Later, he seemed almost eager to incriminate himself, and the jury was shown three separate video confessions in which Scherf described the attack in great detail.
Soon after he was removed from the prison, where he was serving life without parole on a three-strikes sentence following his third rape conviction, to Snohomish County Jail for the duration of the investigation, he began to file inmate request forms known as “kites,” asking to meet with Snohomish County Detective Brad Walvatne and his partner, Detective Dave Bilyeu. They were joined by Sergeant Cindy Chessie of the Monroe Police Department, along with Detective Barry Hatch.
Detectives transported Scherf to the fourth-floor Sheriff’s Office in the Snohomish County Courthouse via an underground tunnel because Scherf, a demanding inmate, had stated that he didn’t feel comfortable talking at the jail.
“It’s too jail-like,” he had complained.
In the videos, he was shown sitting at a table in the training room of the Sheriff’s office, wearing orange prison attire. He had a large indistinctive tattoo on his right arm and drank coffee continuously. He was matter-of-fact, even at times attempting to joke with detectives. He looked much larger in the videos than he appeared to be in court.
He was consistently asked to confirm that he was there of his own free will, without having been coerced or threatened in any way. Scherf confirmed that at each interview.
Scherf agreed to cooperate with detectives in return for improvements to his housing situation. He requested a bible, paper and pencil, visits with his family, bed sheets, toiletries, and for the officers to stop slamming doors at night so he could sleep.
He was also concerned about getting his guitar back, which had been confiscated from his cell in Monroe.
Describing the attack on Biendl, Scherf said that Biendl had made a comment that had offended him, but he refused to explain to detectives exactly what she said to him. He claimed it was something about his wife. He described sitting in the volunteer’s office of the chapel, stewing over it, his anger escalating rapidly.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. He stated that initially he was just going to wait until everyone was gone and then beat her up, but then decided that he would kill her.
Scherf described cornering Biendl in the sanctuary of the chapel, stating that he ran up behind her. When she saw him, “her eyes got as big as silver dollars,” he said.
Biendl fought hard for her life. Scherf had over 70 injuries on his body, to which he attributed 95 percent of them as a direct result of his fight with 5’4”, 134-pound Biendl.
Scherf claims to have blacked out while he was strangling Biendl, coming to shortly after to find himself seated in the chapel. He said that he walked up to the stage at that point, and saw Biendl lying on the floor.
Detective Walvatne asked Scherf, “If you could have used a phone to call for help, would you have?”
Scherf replied, “No.”
“At that point, I wasn’t sorry she was dead,” said Scherf.
On Scherf’s kite dated Feb. 14, he again requested to meet with detectives Walvatne and Bilyeu, who this time interviewed him at the jail. Scherf gave them another kite addressed to the prosecutor’s office in which he quotes the Bible, citing Genesis 9:6, which states that “If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands.”
Scherf said that he would plead guilty to aggravated murder in the first degree, and that he should be given the death penalty.
This was never a case of “who-done-it,” agreed both the prosecution and the defense during their closing arguments. What was in question was the premeditation involved in the crime.
The amount of premeditation required to support a conviction of murder in the first degree is not an exact measure. The definition reads that it “must involve more than a moment in point of time.”
The defense faced significant challenges as they argued that Scherf committed the crime in a fit of rage, and blacked out while killing Biendl.
Testimony clearly showed that Scherf, once he decided to kill Biendl, took careful steps to make sure he would be able to carry out his plans uninterrupted. He made sure the chapel was empty, closing an outer gate to the chapel area to ensure that the chapel would appear closed and secured.
During testimony given on Wednesday, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Paul Stern asked Medical Examiner Dr. Norman John Thiersch to check his watch and tell the jury when enough time had passed for a person to die from strangulation. After four silent, seemingly endless minutes, Thiersch signaled that time was up. In order for death to occur it takes four to five minutes of constant pressure, he said.
This was after another four to five minutes of vigorous struggle, as 34-year-old Biendl fought for her life.
Just before closing arguments on Thursday, the defense called an inmate from Monroe Correctional Facility. After being sworn in, the inmate said that he had been acquainted with Scherf for many years. They were running buddies and eventually worked together in the chapel. The inmate gave testimony that contradicted things that Scherf told detectives during his video confessions.
In his video confession from Feb. 10, when asked about Biendl’s demeanor on the night of the murder, Scherf had claimed that it seemed like “something was going on” with her that night; she had a sad look on her face, and he said she was disrespectful to a civilian chapel volunteer.
The witness, who had known Biendl for several years, was also questioned about Biendl’s demeanor on that night. The inmate stated that she was “real nice and polite, kind, real professional,” as she always was.
He also said that Biendl was reluctant to allow Scherf to stay and work that night.
Closing arguments were given by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Ed Stemler; Defense Attorney Jon Scott, followed by a rebuttal argument from Deputy Prosecuting attorney Stern.
“Five words tell you all you need to know,” said Stern.
“It was a done deal.”
Biendl had worked at the Monroe Correctional Facility since 2003 and was well-liked by her colleagues. She lived in Granite Falls with her two horses, Dancer and Layla, who are now being cared for by her neighbor. She loved country music, especially the old-time stuff like Merle Haggard, said members of her family.
Monroe Police Chief Tim Quenzer spent time in the courtroom and gave an update on the trial progress during the city council meeting on May 7.
“If a homicide trial can go well, this is going well,” said Quenzer. “Our officers that have testified have done an excellent job. That’s been a comment from not only the prosecuting attorneys but even from the judge.”
“I’m very proud of them,” said Quenzer.
The trial resumed Monday, this time to determine what penalty Scherf will pay. If given the death penalty, he will bring the number of inmates on Washington’s Death Row to nine.