Three years later: Tragic tale of greed and murder ends with son's conviction
It took three years, start to finish, from the time the bodies of Ernest Sherer Jr. and Charlene Abendroth were found in their Castlewood County Club home until their son, Ernest Scherer III, was convicted earlier this week in the brutal double murder.
The case has all the elements of a made-for-TV movie: greed, lust, brutality and a man whose lack of emotion made him the target of the police investigation from the start. A call in March 2008 from the victims' daughter, concerned that she hadn't heard from them, led to the discovery of the bodies of the elder Scherer and Abendroth who were bludgeoned, slashed and stabbed repeatedly in their home on Castlewood Drive.
It took a year for Scherer III to be arrested and nearly another year for him to be brought to trial. It took three months for the case to be laid out to jurors, but it took less than 11 hours for that jury to convict him on all counts: two charges of murder for financial gain, one count of committing multiple murders, and a use-of-a-deadly weapon charge for using a sharp instrument to kill his parents.
"There's no single piece of the puzzle that points to Mr. Scherer's guilt," said Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein in a 2009 preliminary hearing, adding that when all the pieces of the case were put together, "It's very clear that he beat and stabbed his parents for money."
While Scherer claimed his innocence right from the start, police carefully built a case against him, tracing his movements to the weeks before the killings. He tried to have a friend buy him a gun in Nevada, driving more than an hour away from Las Vegas, where he was a professional poker player whose winnings had plummeted in the year before the murders.
That friend refused (and later testified against him), but police tracked the purchase of a bat, sneakers and a pair of soccer gloves, paid for in cash, to Primm, a small town in Nevada, at the same time Scherer was there, buying gas and a meal from McDonald's with a credit card. Bloody sneaker prints that matched the style purchased and a label from a matching bat were found at the scene.
It didn't take long for the investigation to zero in on Scherer. The day his parents were laid to rest, police executed a search warrant at his home in Brea, Calif., where he lived with his wife, Robyn, and their young son, Ernest IV. That house was described by prosecutor Michael Nieto as the "accelerant" that led to the crime, claiming Scherer was in debt and unable to keep up the payments on a home purchased at the peak of the real estate market.
Police also seized his car, a Camaro convertible that matched a car in a black-and-white surveillance tape from the country club.
In 2008, while Scherer was still just "a person of interest," Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Dudek sent out emails to Castlewood residents asking whether anyone had spotted a red Camaro in the area. Investigators also starting looking into Scherer's finances.
"We're asking anyone who is owed money by Ernie Scherer III to call us," Dudek said at the time.
Before long, Scherer's actions led his own family members to doubt his innocence. Scherer went into hiding after being interviewed several times by police.
Robyn, who was working with investigators, filed for divorce following a long, secretly taped conversation the two had in which he mentioned several times that a wife can't be forced to testify against her husband. His aunt, Carolyn Scherer Oesterle, who originally promised to pay for his defense, backed out when Scherer disappeared, and Ernest Scherer Sr. refused to have any contact with his grandson.
Investigators believe the murders took place on March 7, 2008, although the bodies weren't discovered until March 14. While mail was piling up at his parents' home and calls to them were going unanswered, Scherer went on a series of dates with a woman he had met at a trapeze class not far from his home in Southern California while his wife was away.
That's just part of what the prosecution portrayed as Scherer's freewheeling, philandering lifestyle, often leaving his wife and infant son at home while he gambled and dated women he met though Craigslist in Las Vegas.
That pattern continued as police slowly compiled evidence against him. While investigators were tracing his actions on the day in question, Scherer began placing ads on Craigslist seeking women and possible places to live in other areas of the country.
Scherer and his defense attorney Richard Foxall claim the investigation never looked at other possible suspects. Police accounts prove that to be true, largely because Scherer's lack of emotion going back to his parents' funeral made him their prime suspect from the start.
He was caught in lies during interviews, claiming that he wasn't in financial trouble but demanding to be let into his parents' house to see their will. That will would have put him in line to receive half of his parents' estate, which totaled well over $2 million, and the inheritance was the driving force behind the killings, according to the prosecution.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Michael Nieto showed the jury a chart of lies that Scherer had told and forced him to admit that he lied often in instances in which he had extramarital affairs or had to borrow money.
"A liar stands alone," Nieto told the jury.
The trial dredged up some squabbles, both inside and outside the family; Abendroth, who was a lecturer at Cal State East Bay and a devout Mormon, clearly objected to both her husband's gambling and her son's decision to become a professional gambler. Ernest Scherer Jr., active in the Republican Party, had been recalled from the San Ramon Valley school board and "had enemies," in the words of a friend who testified.
In the end, Scherer's own statements both at the trial and to police were what convicted him, according to one juror who asked not to be named.
"Inconsistencies, unknown whereabouts, you could go down the list," that juror said. "He has a hard time keeping a story straight."
While Scherer's accounts of his time before and after the murders were detailed, his recall of the day his parents were killed, when he claimed he was driving home from Las Vegas, seemed sketchy. He testified he was at home in Brea asleep on his couch when the murders occurred, which didn't sit well with the jury.
"All of a sudden, there's a blank area," the juror said, adding that Scherer's actions after the killings were suspect as well.
"In a case where you're innocent, why don't you show your innocence? How could you not?" the juror said. "Did he love his son? Did he love his father? Money makes you do crazy things."
Closing arguments ended March 24, and jury deliberations began. They lasted a little over four hours that day, and nearly four-and-a-half hours on Friday, concluding Monday after about two hours.
The juror said they were all convinced of Scherer's guilt from the start of deliberations. The time was spent "just going over everything, making sure."
The conviction brought out mixed emotions from the family. Oesterle and Robyn held hands in the courtroom; as the jury announced its decisions, Oesterle gave a thumbs-up for each guilty sentence from the jury foreman, but Robyn, who'd been in a relationship with Scherer for most of her adult life, cried as the verdict was read. Both had testified against Scherer.
He sat staring down at the table before him as the jury filed in, but shook his head in denial as the verdicts against him were read out.
Sentencing is set for May 20. Early on, the prosecution decided not to pursue a death penalty in the case; instead, Scherer faces a potential sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.