Trial begins for inmate accused of murdering corrections officer

EVERETT, Wash. -- The aggravated murder trial began Wednesday in Everett for a prison inmate accused of killing a corrections officer at the Washington state Reformatory. If convicted, Byron Scherf could face the death penalty.

From seeing the murder weapon and photos of her deceased body to hearing gruesome details of her death, the family and friends of Jayme Biendl endured a difficult first day in court on Wednesday.

Inmate Byron Scherf is accused of killing Biendl, and now he's trying to save his own life.

Scherf wore a suit and glasses to court on Wednesday, but prosecutors say behind those glasses is a cold-blooded killer who deserves nothing less than the death penalty.

"He decided he was going to kill her with his own hands," said prosecutor Paul Stern.

The case will come down to premeditation, and if prosecutors are able to prove that, it could mean the death penalty for Scherf.

"Byron Scherf told investigators he did it, and said he did it because he wanted to, and he said he thought about it," Stern said.

That confession came 10 days after his arrest. On January 29, Biendl was found strangled to death in a prison chapel at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

Scherf's attorney, Jon Scott, said his client used an amplifier cord to strangle Biendl. Some jurors and family members looked away when Scott showed photos of her dead body.

"He's admitted he killed her," Scott said. "It's a question of did he plan it or was he overcome?"

Scott said Scherf wrote a letter to detectives saying that rage had been percolating in him for years.

The prosecution argued Scherf knew there were no cameras in the chapel and waited until he was briefly alone with Biendl to pounce.

Scott said Scherf confessed out of compassion for Biendl's family.

After the killing, Scherf wrote detectives and prosecutors, saying he wanted to plead guilty. He urged authorities to seek the death penalty. He wrote that Biendl's family deserved swift justice. After being advised of his rights, he agreed to video interviews with investigators. He spoke against the advice of his lawyer.

Scherf later wrote The Daily Herald newspaper that he changed his mind and decided to fight prosecution because he was denied jail privileges he believed sheriff's detectives promised him.

The defense made several pretrial attempts to strike down the death penalty as a possible punishment. The arguments attacked prosecuting attorney Mark Roe's decision to seek Scherf's execution without reviewing mitigating information prepared by the defense.

At Wednesday's trial, the prosecution left the jury with Scherf's own words.

"I ask you to charge me with aggregated murder first degree with the death penalty and I will plead guilty," said Stern, reading a previous statement from Scherf.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks. A 2011 internal investigation found seven staff members failed to follow policies and procedures on the night Biendl was murdered, but said it didn't directly contribute to her death.