Poker pro suspected in double murder
Awaiting his trial, a confident Ernie Scherer mocked the case against him.
"That was one of his statements to me: 'I wanna be free by Christmas. Hey, come on,'" said Det. Scott Dudek.
Prosecutor Mike Nieto admits his evidence is circumstantial.
"I want you to tell me about the witness who saw Ernie enter his parents' home that night" Peter Van Sant asked Nieto.
"There is no witness that saw Ernie enter his parents' home," he replied.
"Are there any fingerprints?"
"There were no fingerprints."
"So no witness, no fingerprints...and you can't verify the car."
"That's a strong case?"
"It is," Nieto replied. "When you consider everything together, everything points to Ernie being responsible."
The defense counters with solid forensic evidence, saying foreign DNA found mixed in with the victim's blood does not match Ernie.
"That's your killer, isn't it?" Van Sant asked Dudek.
"That's what the defense would have you believe," he replied. "Just because someone's DNA is present, that doesn't mean they're the responsible party. ...Could've been one of the first responders at the scene. It could've been anyone that had been in the Scherer home prior to March 7th, 2008."
Looking for anything to bolster his case, Nieto took a second look at those crime scene photos. Something caught his eye.
"I'm getting chills just telling you this story now," he said.
Nieto made a startling discovery: a bloody piece of paper, which turned out to be a warranty card from a Nike youth baseball bat.
"I called my investigator and I said, 'You got to get up here. We found the murder weapon,'" he said. "These two people, 57 and 60 years old, have no reason to have a youth baseball bat in their home. Never mind a warranty card affixed to the barrel of a baseball bat with dad's blood on it."
"You don't have a physical murder weapon but you essentially have a murder weapon...with this little piece of paper?" Van Sant asked.
"Yes," Nieto replied.
More than two years after the murders, investigators finally knew the instrument used to kill Ernest and Charlene. Now they needed to find a way to put the bat in Ernie's hands.
"I focused on Primm," Nieto said. "[Ernie] had used the McDonald's and the Chevron station as the starting point for his alibi, so I said, "Let's see what else is in Primm."
And just like that, the dominoes started to fall into place. Standing just footsteps away from the McDonalds is a Nike Outlet store.
"That led us to a particular cash transaction in which an individual purchased three items: The baseball bat, a pair of Nike Tomahawk Impax shoes, size 12, and a pair of youth soccer goalie gloves. Those three items might as well be a 101 kit for how to commit murder," said Nieto.
The items were purchased on March 7, 2008.
"What are the chances, on the day of the homicide, that a person buys a bat and buys the exact same size shoe that we find in a crime scene," commented Dudek.
Said Nieto, "In the sage words of my grandmother, 'one too many coincidences is not a coincidence.'"
On Jan. 4, 2011, with cameras banned from the courtroom, the murder trial of Charlene and Ernest Scherer would begin. The prosecution would take the jury through the surveillance video, Robyn's phone call, Ernie's lies, and, of course, that bloody warranty card.
"Ernie Scherer decides to take the stand. Why do you think he's doing that?" Van Sant asked Nieto.
"I think it's consistent with his narcissistic personality. I think he is persuaded that he can convince at least one member of that jury to either find reasonable doubt, or to find that he's completely innocent," he replied.
And there was one female juror that gave prosecutor Nieto cause for concern. Ernie appeared to be flirting with her. And she appeared to flirt back.
"Exchanges of smiles, glances," Nieto said. "And then once the juror left the courtroom he would look at me and laugh and make comments about essentially how he had this one juror in his corner."
As they await the verdict, Robyn and her son serve as a reminder of just what is at stake.
"Would he be willing to hurt me, or hurt Ernest... It was really scary," she said.
But would this professional gambler win his final hand? After an exhaustive three-month trial, Ernie Scherer is found guilty of murdering his parents.
"It is an overwhelming feeling to know that all of that hard work, all that sacrifice comes to that moment," Nieto explained. "And knowing that the right thing happened, there is no other feeling like it."
Asked what it was like to hear the guilty verdict, Robyn described it as "emotional."
"I was shaking," she said. "And I wanted to make sure that I looked at him and saw his reaction."
"What did you see?" Van Sant asked.
"He put his head down. And then when he lifted it back up at one point I saw his eyes...he had that look like, 'I got caught,'" she replied.
Robyn lives each day knowing she will eventually have to explain to her young son just how his father murdered his grandparents.
"Does he have a living memory of his father?" Van Sant asked.
"He doesn't really know him," Robyn replied. "He just remembers that we used to live with somebody who had this red convertible."
"It's horrible," Catherine said. "To look at your brother and say, 'Why would you do that? Where is there any logic, any love, anything?' And to feel like not only have you lost your parents, but you've just lost effectively your entire family."
Ernie Scherer is serving two consecutive life sentences. He has filed an appeal.
Catherine Scherer has set up a scholarship in her mother's name at Cal State East Bay, where Charlene taught there for more than 30 years. Click here to learn more.
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