Jurors recommend Byron Scherf should be put to death

EVERETT, Wash. — Jurors took just three hours Wednesday to decide Byron Scherf deserved to die for killing corrections officer Jayme Biendl. But the 54-year-old inmate may be in his 70s before he faces a possible execution.

It took jurors less than half an hour last week to find Scherf guilty of first-degree aggravated murder in Biendl's 2011 slaying. She was strangled with a cord inside the sanctuary of the prison chapel.

On Monday, jurors heard emotional testimony from Biendl's father.

"The worst part is the feeling of loss just doesn't seem to go away," said Biendl's father, James Hamm.

Hamm wasn't expecting the jury to recommend the death penalty for Scherf, but Wednesday, he was pleasantly surprised.

"It's so hard for someone to say, 'I'd like to see you die. I'd like to put somebody to death,'" said Hamm. "It's just immorally, it's hard to do. But I was hoping."

The jury was asked to decide if there were any mitigating factors that should spare Scherf from being executed. Jurors unanimously voted that the court should not show any leniency in sentencing Scherf to death.

"I've been waiting 837 days exactly to hear those words that he's got the death penalty," said Biendl's sister, Lisa Hamm. "And I'm going to continue to count, until he's finally dead."

Scherf, 54, is serving a life sentence for crimes against women, including rape.

His attorneys argued that Scherf's life was worth saving. Before the killing, he earned a high school diploma and enrolled in therapy.

"It is obvious that Byron is a damaged, broken man. But he is not beyond redemption. He is not evil," said Karen Halverson, Scherf's attorney.

Prosecutors said the programs did not work. They said Scherf completed an anger management class in 1989 and was released from prison, and raped a woman six years later. He then took an in-custody therapy class but killed Biendl six months later, they said.

The judge issued a death sentence for Scherf on Wednesday afternoon. He will be moved to a state prison in 10 days.

After the Snohomish County Judge hands down the official death sentence Wednesday afternoon, the Department of Corrections will move Scherf to a different facility; presumably the State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. But as with most death row cases, it could be years before Scherf is executed.

But Biendl's family will count months and years before Scherf faces the death penalty.

There are eight men on Death Row in Walla Walla -- convicted child killer, Johnathan Lee Gentry, was sentenced nearly 22 years ago.

A death sentence is automatically reviewed by the state Supreme Court. Scherf's attorney said the convicted rapist and murderer will fight for his life.

"He will be filing his appeal so I think that speaks for itself. He will be appealing," said attorney Karen Halverson.

Biendl's friend, Lawrence Heiser, said he's ready for the court fight that is just beginning.

"It could be 20 to 30 years before they execute him. He got a fair trial. I'm sure he'll get a decent execution and that's more than he deserves," said Heiser.