MONROE, Wash. — A search warrant issued in connection with the death of a Monroe correctional officer says the suspect had asked people to pray for him because he was struggling with temptation, the Daily Herald reported Friday.
Inmate Byron Scherf submitted a prayer request Jan. 27, asking others who attended the chapel at the Washington State Reformatory to "pray for me for very pressing temptations I have been dealing with — I want to do the right thing but am really struggling."
The chapel's lone officer, Jayme Biendl, was strangled Jan. 29.
Scherf, 52, is a three-strikes offender serving a life sentence for rape convictions. He volunteered at the chapel where he worked as a janitor and clerk. He's jailed in Everett for the homicide investigation.
Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said he can't discuss Scherf or the case against him until detectives complete their investigation.
Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis also said she could not discuss the case or comment on what Scherf may have told investigators.
Detectives this week identified roughly 60 more people they want to interview as part of the criminal investigation, Willis said. Many are inmates.
The search warrant made public on Thursday is one of several that have been sought in the case in recent days. Combined, the warrants shed new light on what detectives believe happened:
Surveillance camera footage from the prison shows Biendl propping open the door to the sanctuary for Scherf at 8:08 p.m. so he could get baptismal blankets. He then returned to a chapel office where he spent most of the evening. A fellow inmate brought Scherf his jacket around 8:30 p.m., closing time. The jacket had been left in the sanctuary.
An inmate told investigators that he and Scherf left the chapel at the same time the night of the killing, but Scherf said he needed to go back, claiming that he'd left behind his hat.
Detectives found an unusually bent piece of wire, possibly a paperclip, in a chapel office garbage can. Suspecting the wire had been used to pick a lock, detectives fashioned a replica. It worked to open chapel door latches.
Detectives obtained a judge's approval to seize all the property that was in Scherf's cell, including paperwork and his electric guitar. They've also sought all prison records regarding Scherf's history with the corrections department.
In affidavits, the detectives said they believe the records may be helpful in resolving questions about how Scherf got along with corrections officers and others behind prison walls.
According to one affidavit, Scherf kept psychological records in his cell that quoted one of his relatives. The relative suggested Scherf "would not do well with, or would not interact well with female prison guards an/or prison female prison officials."
"Oh really," Scherf wrote in the margin of that document, detectives told the judge.
Investigators also found papers in Scherf's cell titled "Details of My Life History." In it, the author wrote of a brief stint in the Army in 1976, the same year Scherf briefly served. Whoever wrote the report also bragged about being able to "pull a psychological scam" to end his military service.
Search warrants are clear that detectives are preparing for a possible death penalty case.
Scherf since 1997 has been serving life in prison without possibility of release after being convicted of three attacks on women.
The search warrants show investigators have been spending considerable time with Scherf since the killing. For example, they obtained a judge's permission to carefully photograph Scherf's nude body under special lights that make it easier to spot injuries, including hidden bruises.
They also recovered in the chapel a cartoon that an inmate told them Scherf gave Biendl. The cartoon makes reference to somebody being a "wolf in sheep's clothing."
"I know through experience and research 'A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing' is an idiom of Biblical origin," a detective said in an affidavit. The phrase is used to describe "those playing a role contrary to their real character, with whom contact is dangerous."
The inmate told investigators that Scherf apparently gave Biendl the cartoon shortly before she was killed, perhaps the same day, according to court papers.
The reformatory remained in lockdown Thursday and there is no timetable for lifting the restrictions, said Monroe Correctional Complex spokeswoman Cathy Kopoian. The other four prisons at Monroe are in a less restrictive lockdown, meaning inmates can move around in their housing units but there is no outside recreation.
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There has been no visitation at any of the prisons in the Monroe complex since the Jan. 29 homicide.