A Kern County judge on Tuesday said he wants prospective jurors questioned before he decides whether the trial of accused murderer Sabrina Limon should be moved outside Kern County as the defense has requested.
Judge John R. Brownlee also denied a defense motion to sequester the jury throughout the trial, but said the motion could be revisited depending on jurors' answers.
Brownlee, however, noted the concerns of attorney Richard Terry regarding possible tainting of the jury pool.
After the 30-minute hearing, the judge informed the media of steps he's taking to help prevent a potential mistrial in the highly publicized case of Limon, who prosecutors allege conspired with her lover, former Redlands firefighter Jonathan Hearn, in the killing of her husband three years ago at his workplace in Tehachapi.
Brownlee said he's denying video and photographic coverage inside the courtroom during jury selection. He said it's his plan to allow only one video camera and one still camera in the courtroom once opening statements begin, and no photos or video will be allowed of any child witnesses.
And any interviews conducted by the media during the trial, Brownlee said, must be held not only outside the presence of jurors, but outside the courthouse as well. Jury selection is likely to begin early next week.
Limon's attorney, Richard Terry, said Tuesday if jurors aren't sequestered there's likely to be "some sort of poisoning of the jury" during the trial as a result of media coverage.
Prosecutor Eric Smith, however, said he believed a warning from Brownlee to jurors not to watch, read, or listen to any coverage of the case would be sufficient.
Brownlee said he will take "extra precautions" in admonishing the jury to avoid trial coverage, and will revisit the motion to sequester if necessary.
Among other motions heard Tuesday were those regarding use of autopsy photos and what the defense called "sexually explicit" photos of Limon captured on cellphones.
Smith told the court he does not plan on showing any autopsy photos, just photos taken at the scene of the shooting.
As for photos of Sabrina Limon, Smith said he will not use those taken by her husband, but he does plan to show photos from Hearn's cellphone to establish the two were romantically involved. He said they aren't explicit.
Brownlee said he will view the photos and make a determination as to whether they are relevant to the case.
Brownlee also withheld judgment on whether the jury will be taken to the scene of the shooting at a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway building in Tehachapi. Smith said the building is "extremely difficult" to find, and he believes traveling there will show the jury it's a place Hearn couldn't find without assistance.
Brownlee said he wants to visit the site himself before making a decision. He said he's roughly "50/50" when it comes to granting jury views, but said he hasn't heard anything so far indicating being at the scene would help the jury.
The next hearing in the case is set for Thursday.
According to prosecutors, Limon and Hearn plotted the Aug. 17, 2014, killing of 37-year-old Robert Limon.
Sabrina Limon was originally arrested with Hearn in 2014, but she was released due to insufficient evidence. She was rearrested in January after Hearn confessed to shooting Robert Limon and agreed to testify against Sabrina Limon as part of a plea agreement in which he'll serve 25 years and four months in prison.
Hearn, 27, testified during a preliminary hearing he and Sabrina Limon fell in love during their two-year affair and wanted her husband out of the way so they could share their lives together.
Hearn directed investigators to evidence related to the crime, including the shoes he wore at the time of the killing, and arsenic trioxide. He said he and Sabrina Limon had planned to kill her husband through poisoning before abandoning the idea over fear of getting caught.