Pleasanton Weekly

News - January 7, 2011

Castlewood murder case focuses on money as key motive

Trial expected to last four months

by Glenn Wohltmann

Two key pieces of evidence--a video of a red Camaro driving past a surveillance camera and the purchase of sneakers, soccer gloves and a metal baseball bat--link accused Castlewood killer Ernest Scherer III to the brutal murders of his parents, according to prosecutor Michael Nieto.

Scherer was charged in the brutal murders of his father, Ernie Scherer Jr., 60, and his mother, Charlene Abendroth, 57. Crime scene photos showed the bodies of the two in pajamas, bludgeoned, stabbed and cut, lying in pools of dried blood with multiple blunt force injuries that appeared to be from a baseball bat. Sneaker prints from the scene showed clear tracks linked to size 12 Nike sneakers. Those sneakers matched the ones paid for in cash, along with the bat and gloves, at a Nike factory outlet in Primm, Nev., the same day and approximate time Scherer III stopped for gas and at a McDonald's restaurant in the small Nevada town.

A video taken near the Castlewood golf course showed a red Camaro convertible similar to Scherer's car driving past the night of the slayings. Police later drove that Camaro past the same camera, yielding similar footage.

Nieto, who held a bat similar to the one used in the slaying as he spoke to the jury, portrayed Scherer as desperate to get his hands on a hoped-for $1.5 million inheritance, comparing the events leading up to the double slaying to an arson.

In an arson, officials look for evidence of an accelerant like gasoline. Nieto said the debt Scherer and his wife, Robyn, owed on their $880,000 home was the accelerant in the slaying.

"Throughout this case, think of the Brea house as an accelerant," he told the jury. He said Scherer's parents provided $616,000 to their son and daughter-in-law to finance the home, along with an $88,000 mortgage held by the prior owner. The couple made early payments for several months, but stopped paying before the March 2008 payment was due.

"You're going to hear evidence that the parents were trying to secure their money, get their money back," Nieto said.

The prosecution's opening statement went into minute details about the time leading up to the slayings and beyond, as Scherer withdrew money from the household bank account while his wife was hoping to pay the mortgage.

Also key in the case is the 17 hours around the time of the killings that Scherer's phone was off, either because he'd turned it off or because the battery was dead, and cell towers that traced Scherer to where he could have headed north toward Pleasanton. Investigators who drove the route said it could easily have been done in the time frame that would put Scherer's Camaro in front of the Castlewood surveillance camera. Prosecution evidence also showed that in the days before the killings Scherer tried to have one of his friends buy a gun for him in Parump, Nev., where there's no three-day waiting period.

Nieto told the jury that after his parents' funeral, Scherer spent time on the Internet searching for countries that don't extradite to the U.S., and that he was upset that his passport was inside his Camaro when it was seized by police. He described Scherer as a philanderer who posted Craigslist ads across the country seeking women and looking for a possible place to live.

Defense attorney Richard Foxall downplayed every piece of the prosecution's evidence, saying that since the investigation focused on his client from the beginning, police overlooked every possibility that someone other than Scherer killed the pair.

Foxall dismissed the video, claiming that another car could just as likely been driven by the camera. He said that the purchase of a bat, gloves and sneakers could easily have been made by someone who wanted sporting equipment, pointing out that the gloves, in a child's size, were too small for Scherer and the sneakers too big. Scherer wears a size 10 shoe.

Another key is the defense contention that money wasn't an issue in the family. Foxall said Scherer's parents had been generous with both their children, paying for their college education and buying both new cars when they turned 16.

"The mere fact of parents loaning money to their children is not an unusual thing," Foxall told the jury.

The defense attorney also pointed out one key piece of evidence for his side, one not mentioned during Nieto's opening argument. That, Foxall said, is a bloody sneaker print at the scene with blood that didn't match either of the parents or Scherer and has, to date, not been identified. He also pointed out that Scherer didn't have any injuries after the slayings, although defensive wounds on the elder Scherer indicated he'd struggled with his attacker.

Foxall also said that Scherer played in a bridge tournament with his grandfather the day after the killing, appearing alert and playing well despite what the prosecution described as a lengthy drive from Las Vegas to Primm to Pleasanton, then to Southern California for the tournament.

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