Trial to begin for poker player accused of murder

January 4, 2011 8:55:47 AM PST
Opening statements will be presented on Tuesday in the trial of professional poker player Ernest Scherer III on charges that he murdered his parents for financial gain at their upscale Pleasanton home in March 2008.

Prosecutor David Stein alleged at Scherer's preliminary hearing in 2009 that he killed his parents because he was in serious financial trouble due to gambling debts. He expected to inherit $1.5 million from them.

Stein said Scherer, now 32, who is being held in custody without bail, "was living a very expensive lie" by residing in a house worth nearly $1 million in Brea in Orange County with his wife and young child at the same time that he was dating a number of different women while he played poker in Las Vegas.

But defense attorney Richard Foxall said at the preliminary hearing that Stein didn't produce sufficient evidence to prove that Scherer III is the person who killed his parents and accused Stein of "putting the cart before the horse" and "shoe-horning the evidence into a particular theory."

Foxall said Stein only presented "a possible series of events," not hard facts, at the hearing.

The decomposed bodies of Ernest Scherer Jr., 60, who was a real estate investor, and Charlene Abendroth, 57, an accounting lecturer who taught for more than 30 years at California State University, East Bay, in Hayward, were found at their Castlewood Country Club home in Pleasanton on March 14, 2008. Authorities believe they were killed late the night of March 7, 2008, or early on March 8, 2008.

A forensic pathologist testified at the preliminary hearing that they died from multiple blunt force injuries and stab wounds.

Scherer III is accused of two counts of murder and also faces two special circumstance allegations: multiple murder and murder for financial gain. In addition, he's charged with two use-of-a-deadly weapon clauses for allegedly using a sharp instrument to kill his parents.

Prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty for Scherer, but he could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if he's convicted.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner, who presided over Scherer's preliminary hearing, is also presiding over Scherer's trial.

As he has done in other high-profile cases he has handled, Horner has issued a gag order barring the attorneys in the trial from talking to the news media.

Foxall is still representing Scherer, but Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Michael Nieto has replaced Stein as the prosecutor in the case.

There have been weeks of hearings on pretrial motions about evidentiary issues in the case.

Horner, Nieto and Foxall met until late in the day today to try to resolve the final remaining legal matters before opening statements are presented.