Gregoire orders investigation into murder of prison guard

Jan 31, 2011

Washington's governor has ordered an independent investigation into the killing of a prison guard at the Monroe Correctional Center on Saturday night.  Veteran officer Jayme Biendl was strangled at her post in the prison chapel. Her body was discovered after she failed to turn in her keys at the close of her shift.

An inmate who was missing during a routine count earlier Saturday evening, Byron Scherf, is considered the 'prime suspect' of Monroe Police, according to Seattlepi.com's Chris Grygiel:

"Our correction system exists to end crime and violence, not to be a scene for more of it," Gregoire said at a news conference this afternoon.

The National Institute of Corrections will conduct the independent inquiry. The state's Department of Corrections will also perform an internal review.

Grygiel writes Governor Gregoire fielded questions about state budget cuts and guard safety at today's announcement:

"Are we adequately staffed is the question. This is not about budget cuts. This is about are we adequately staffed," the governor said.

The union representing prison guards, Teamster's Local 117,  has protested outside the Monroe facility in recent weeks voicing concern about worker safety in light of reduced budgets, and have taken their case to court. 

Officer Biendl had voiced her own concerns about safety in the prison chapel, according to KPLU's Austin Jenkins.

Biendl was honored as Officer of the Year in 2008 for her work. She was 34 years old.

The suspect, Scherf, has a record of extremely violent crimes against women in Pierce and Spokane counties, according to reporter Adam Lynn of the News Tribune.  The 52-year old is serving a three-strikes life term.