Washington Prison Guard’s Murder Costs State $2.5 Million and Counting
by Mark Wilson
A Washington prisoner’s conviction and death sentence for murdering a female prison guard has cost taxpayers $1.6 million, while the guard’s family settled a lawsuit against the state for $900,000.
As previously reported in PLN, convicted rapist Byron Scherf, 55, lured state prison guard Jayme Biendl, 34, into the chapel at the Monroe Correctional Complex, and strangled her to death with an amplifier cord on January 29, 2011. Her body was not found until two hours later. [See: PLN, Jan. 2012, p.38].
Ironically, prior to her death, Biendl had warned officials at the prison about security deficiencies such as insufficient lighting, poor radio communication and a lack of surveillance cameras. Her complaints were ignored.
Scherf, who had spent most of his adult life in prison and was already serving life without parole, confessed to ambushing and murdering Biendl. He said he had attacked her due to something she said to him, which he refused to divulge. “She didn’t deserve to die. She didn’t deserve that,” Scherf told investigators.
He went to trial and on May 9, 2013 a jury convicted him of aggravated murder; he was subsequently sentenced to death.
The bill has now come due. In July 2013, Snohomish County officials, including the sheriff, prosecutor, medical examiner, superior court clerk and jail officials, billed the state more than $900,000 for Scherf’s prosecution.
Pursuant to state law, defendants facing the death penalty must be assigned two “death qualified” attorneys, and Scherf was represented by defense counsel Karen Halverson and Jon Scott. They billed the state nearly $400,000 for 4,100 hours of work on the case, according to records obtained by The Daily Herald.
Monroe law enforcement officials have also billed the state almost $300,000 for their investigation of Biendl’s murder. Detectives interviewed more than 100 guards, prisoners and other witnesses, collected evidence in the prison chapel and reviewed surveillance footage. Two detectives also assisted prosecutors during the trial.
In total, Scherf’s prosecution cost Washington taxpayers $1.6 million. Still, that represents only the beginning of many more years of expenses to come.
Scherf now joins eight other prisoners on death row at the Washington State Reformatory in Walla Walla at an average cost of $122 per day, according to Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) spokesman Chad Lewis.
Under state law, the Washington Supreme Court conducts a mandatory review of all death penalty convictions and sentences, plus Scherf will have several other state and federal appeals. Most of his neighbors on death row have been there for more than a decade, and taxpayers will foot the bill for his incarceration while he exhausts the appeals process.
Further, in January 2014, Biendl’s family sued the DOC and former Monroe Correctional Complex superintendent Scott Frankes. The suit, filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, accused the state of failing to protect Biendl due to “highly predictable” security lapses at the facility. The case settled for $900,000, according to a March 2014 news report.
Following Biendl’s death, three guards were fired and other prison employees were disciplined for violating policy, falsifying documents and lying to investigators. The terminated guards were later reinstated following a decision by an arbitrator, who found widespread problems at the prison had contributed to the murder and it was unfair to single out specific staff members.
Frankes, meanwhile, was promoted to the DOC’s deputy director of prisons.
Sources: The Daily Herald, Associated Press, www.seattlepi.com, http://abcnews.go.com, www.corspecops.com, www.q13fox.com
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