Ernest Scherer III sat emotionless in an Oakland courtroom Friday as Judge Jeffrey Horner ordered the defendant to stand trial for the deaths of his parents in their Castlewood Country Club home.
Horner said testimony taken from a series of hearings over the past month - from evidence to a motive - indicate Scherer III's guilt. The 31-year-old resident of Brea, Calif., will be arraigned Sept. 4. He remains locked up in Santa Rita Jail, where he's been held since February on a no-bail warrant.
In his ruling, Horner said Scherer III will have to answer to all charges against him, which include two counts of murder with special circumstances - multiple murder and murder for financial gain. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Ernest Scherer Jr., 60, a former San Ramon Valley Unified School District board member and active member of the Republican Party and his wife Charlene Abendroth, 57, a well-liked Cal State East Bay professor active in the Mormon church, were brutally stabbed and beaten to death March 7, 2008 in their Castlewood home, authorities testified.
Scherer Jr., discovered with $9,000 in cash in his pockets, was stabbed six times and received six blunt force injuries while Abendroth, whose body lay in a different room, received a dozen stab wounds and 20 blunt force injuries, according to testimony from an Alameda County Sheriff's detective.
"These two individuals met a horrific death," Horner said. "The person who inflicted those wounds did so in significant anger."
In reviewing testimony, Horner said the crime scene was made to look like a burglary, but there was no sign of forced entry and no valuables such as jewelry and computers were taken. Referencing testimony given by Scherer III's grandfather Ernest Scherer Sr., the judge said it was clear the defendant "was upset with his parents who wouldn't help him financially," and that they favored his sister.
Scherer III, a professional poker player with more than $300,000 in career earnings but steeped in debt, was living a life of luxury he couldn't afford, "was a compulsive gambler and couldn't be trusted with money," Horner said.
Scherer III stood to collect $1.5 million in inheritance upon turning 30 years old, according to testimony.
A security tape recorded by the Castlewood Country Club showed a 2001 red Camaro owned by Scherer III entering the community at 8:27 p.m. March 7 and exiting at 1 a.m. the next morning, a window of time that would be consistent with when investigators believe the couple were killed, Horner said.
Also suspicious, the judge said, was a 17-hour period of time that Scherer III's cell phone was turned off - a lapse during which authorities believe the defendant drove from Las Vegas to Pleasanton, killed his parents, and then drove south to Brea. Calling the behavior unusual, the judge said, "Mr. Scherer simply didn't do that; he was always on the phone."
A day after authorities believe the couple were murdered, Scherer III had his car detailed in Brea, insisting on watching his car as it passed through the wash, and replaced the tires, according to testimony. That, the judge said, led him to believe Scherer III may have been worried about tracking blood into his car and leaving tire tracks on his parent's property.
A computer that was seized from a hotel where Scherer III was staying contained searches for fake passports and countries that don't extradite, according to testimony.
When the case goes to trial, it will be based on circumstantial evidence. Scherer III refused a DNA test days after the killings, and a murder weapon, believed to be either a knife or other similarly sharp object, has not been found. Horner agreed with defense attorney Richard Foxall that Scherer cannot be seen in still shots taken from the security tape, a claim the prosecution made during the preliminary hearing.