A judge sentenced Ernest Scherer III to life in prison without possibility of parole Friday after a jury found him guilty of bludgeoning his parents to death in their Castlewood home in 2008.
Scherer III committed the murders because of tension with his parents, Ernest Scherer Jr. and Charlene Abendroth, over debts he incurred from his career as a gambler — including more than $600,000 they loaned him to purchase a Los Angeles home — and the prospect of a million-dollar inheritance.
Scherer Jr. was an active member of the community and in local politics and was named Contra Costa County Republican of the Year in 1996. Abendroth was an accounting professor at Cal State East Bay.
Judge Jeffrey Horner said Scherer III will serve two life sentences consecutively because of the brutal, premeditated nature of the crimes. During comments on the verdict, Horner said, “The jury got it absolutely right.”
The case was eligible for the death penalty, but prosecuters decided not to seek that punishment.
Former jurors sat with members of the Scherer family Friday as Carolyn Oesterle, Catherine Scherer and Ernest Scherer Sr. delivered statements to the court. All three were also witnesses for the prosecution during the months-long trial that saw almost 100 witnesses and 300 exhibits of evidence in total.
Deputy district attorney Michael Nieto said during the trial that Scherer III planned the murders, buying a bat and gloves in Nevada before driving to his parents' home in the exclusive Pleasanton neighborhood, bludgeoning them dozens of times then stabbing them to ensure their deaths.
During her statement, Oesterle speculated on what occurred on March 7, 2008, the night of the murders, and said her nephew’s cruel nature was revealed in his murdering of parents that had lent him money and “were involved in his life” since childhood.
“At first, my brother probably did not realize [Scherer III] was hitting him,” she said. “With this realization he died inside before his final breath. I cannot imagine the horror of that moment and the ones that followed.”
Scherer III's sister Catherine Scherer gave a statement, choking back tears, saying this pains her because of the murders and ensuing investigation and trial of her only sibling.
“Sometimes it feels like it’s just been a long time since she’s visited,” she said about her mother. “[The murders] effectively left me with no living family besides the one that I created.”
She also said her parents’ deaths robbed her children of their future with their grandparents.
“My son loved to travel and wanted to see all the places grandma and grandpa told him about,” Catherine Scherer said.
In statements composed by Scherer Sr. and read in court by Nieto, Scherer Sr. said the crime was “so unbelievable that it is difficult to comprehend.”
“After it, we lived scared,” Scherer Sr. stated. “It wasn’t until the trial that we realized the extent of [Scherer III’s] lies. He conned the whole family.”
Scherer III, with closely cropped hair and wearing an inmate’s red jumpsuit, did not look at his relatives as they made statements. He maintained his innocence in a statement to the court, his voice cracking at times as he said, “I had great parents. I loved them and they loved me.”
Scherer III said DNA found at the scene that could not be attributed to him or any family member proved that someone else was at the scene of the crime; investigators said the amount of DNA found and results of its analysis were negligible.
His attorney, Richard Foxall, filed several legal motions, all of which Horner ultimately denied.
In one motion, Foxall asked for a new trial on several grounds, including the use of Craigslist ads that Scherer III posted seeking dates with women from across the U.S. as evidence during trial. The advertisements showed that Scherer III sought dates with women throughout his marriage and during the murder investigation.
Foxall protested statements Nieto made during closing statements that suggested Scherer III’s defense team had not provided enough of its own witnesses or evidence. Foxall contended that the suggestion “shifted the burden of proof from prosecution to defense.”
Foxall also requested that the sentencing be delayed because of dental problems that Scherer III was suffering from. Foxall said a request for a dental exam was entered months ago but the exam was only recently given and found evidence of tooth decay that needed treatment. Foxall said delaying the sentencing would allow Scherer III to receive long-requested treatment in Santa Rita Jail instead of waiting longer at a state prison for treatment.
In an unusual twist, Scherer said a female juror in his trial has corresponded with him following the verdict in his case.
He said the juror "had questions for me" and "gave me insight into the jury deliberations." Referring to the female juror, Nieto said he thinks Scherer is trying to "prevail on her to change her views" about his guilt but so far she has affirmed her decision in favor of convicting him.
Nieto said he wanted to note for the record that Scherer smiled at the female juror throughout his trial. Foxall said the correspondence was initiated by the juror, not by Scherer, and also said he thinks "any non-verbal communication (during the trial) was from the juror to Mr. Scherer, not by him."
But Nieto said after today's hearing that Scherer frequently commented on the female juror during breaks in his trial.
"He would chide me that he had a special relationship with the juror" and thought she might vote to acquit him, Nieto said.
Foxall is expected appeal the court’s decision.
Nieto said he doesn't think the juror's contacts with Scherer will cause his conviction to be overturned.
"I have no concerns," Nieto said.