EVERETT, Wash. -- Following a jury's recommendation, a judge formally sentenced an inmate to death Wednesday for killing a Washington state corrections officer in a prison chapel two years ago.
Byron Scherf is a convicted rapist who already was serving life in prison when he attacked officer Jayme Biendl, 34, and strangled her with an amplifier cord in January 2011.
A Snohomish County Superior Court jury took about an hour to convict him of aggravated murder last Thursday, and the same jury on Wednesday morning recommended the death penalty.
"I've been waiting 837 days exactly to hear those words, that he has got the death penalty," said Lisa Hamm, Jayme Biendl's sister.
"My thoughts are with the Biendl family and with those jurors who had to listen and make a difficult decision," said deputy prosecutor Ed Stemler. "I am proud of our system of justice.”
The other possible sentence is life in prison without release.
There will be appeals and likely decades of delays before Scherf enters the death chamber, if at all.
"Well, I don't like it, but I'll wait. I hope to outlive him," said Hamm. "I hope to wait and see that day."
Scherf, 54, showed no reaction. He was placed in handcuffs as jurors were led from the courtroom.
Jurors declined to speak publicly about their verdict, but each stopped on their way from the courthouse to shake hands and exchange a few private words with deputy prosecutor Paul Stern.
Scherf never testified during the trial and offered no statement in advance of his sentencing. His lawyers didn't dispute that he strangled Biendl but suggested he didn't plan to kill her.
The jury saw Scherf's video confession and heard forensic testimony about how Biendl was strangled. Scherf said he first planned to ambush and beat up Biendl over something she said to him, but he refused to say what that was.
In the confession, Scherf said he blacked out while pulling on the cord. When he came to, he was sitting in a chair in the back of the church sanctuary. He told detectives he had no memories of Biendl dying.
Snohomish County's medical examiner told the jury it would have taken four to five minutes of constant pressure to strangle Biendl.
Scherf's DNA was found on Biendl's fingernails. His blood was found on her coat and the amplifier cord.
In the sentencing phase of the trial, defense lawyer Karen Halverson asked jurors to spare Scherf's life, urging them not to be swayed "by the voices of vengeance or retribution.”
But Stern reminded jurors of something Scherf told detectives in his confession, "If you take a life, you give a life.”