Prosecutor Eric Smith ended his examination of Jonathan Hearn Friday morning with powerful testimony that he made five calls to his lover, Sabrina Limon, the morning he murdered her husband, as they discussed preparations for the kill, Hearn testified.
That testimony brought the end of six days of wiretapped recordings jurors have been listening to since late last week between Hearn, a confessed murderer, and his lover, Sabrina Limon, who prosecutors allege conspired with Hearn to kill her husband in August 2014 in a Tehachapi train yard.
Defense attorney Richard Terry spent Friday attempting to erode the jury’s confidence in Hearn.
Hearn pled to a 25-year sentence in exchange for testifying against Limon. Limon's attorney says she didn’t have a clue about the killing. She’s standing trial on murder charges in Kern County Superior Court; Friday was the ninth day of proceedings that are expected to last a month.
Terry opened by asking Hearn about his deal with prosecutors, suggesting that statements and evidence — including the arsenic he purchased when he attempted to poison Robert Limon — couldn’t be used against him in court if he took the deal.
“I’m a bit of a poker player,” Terry told Hearn. “That’s a bit of a free roll, right?”
“I’m not familiar with the game of poker,” Hearn responded.
Then Terry started questioning Hearn about whether his testimony has been honest. He pointed out that, as an arson investigator, Hearn had training in how to conduct himself during courtroom testimony. That he knows how to spot trick questions. That he knows exactly what to say and what not to reveal.
“You can get up there and say whatever you want — as you’ve said in the past — and it’s up to the jury to decide whether you’re telling the truth now, isn’t that correct?” Terry asked.
Terry attempted to discredit Hearn, and he honed in on his religious beliefs to do so. Hearn hasn’t always been a devout Christian, he’s testified in the past.
“In other words, you mouthed the words, is that right?” Terry asked. “You mouthed the words of your faith — but you didn’t really believe it?”
Hearn told Terry his faith was “pretty artificial” after he turned 18, but he contended during cross-examination that he never used his faith to deceive Limon.
And at every chance Terry was afforded, he asked questions that framed Hearn as the murderer he has confessed himself to be. He introduced a number of handwritten notes, and then asked when they were penned, “before you decided to kill her husband?”
Then he asked about Limon’s lifestyle.
“During the course of time leading up to the point where you murdered her husband, make her feel guilty about her lifestyle?”
At one point, Terry asked about Hearn’s past encounters with Robert Limon, including the time Robert found out about his wife’s affair and confronted Hearn about it. Hearn told Robert he didn’t know Limon was married.
“You lied to Mr. Limon, right?” Terry asked.
Then after Robert warned Hearn to stay away from his wife, he disobeyed him. He went to Costco, where she worked passing out samples, and saw her from an aisle over. Then he saw Robert and his two children in the store. He abandoned his cart and fled.
Terry drove the point home: even after Hearn was warned to stay away from Limon — by both Robert and a mutual friend, Jason Bernatene — he continued pursuing her. He set up private Gmail accounts for them to communicate, purchased burner phones and snuck away to meet her at “scenic points” throughout town to carry on a relationship.
Terry asked if Hearn was stalking Limon. He denied it.
Anywhere holes could be poked, Terry poked. It was heard in testimony last week that Hearn was told Limon gave him Robert Limon’s work schedule within two weeks of the date he murdered him. Except Robert didn’t know he was working the day of the murder until he got a call from a co-worker the day before asking him to take his shift. Hearn had no response when Terry pressed, asking how Limon could have known about Robert's work schedule before he even did.
“That seems strange,” Hearn said. “I’m not sure.”
Then he went after Hearn for the poison pudding — a salacious plot line in the Limon trial that goes like this: Hearn and Limon allegedly plotted to kill Robert by poisoning him. Hearn purchased arsenic, first testing it in a piece of salmon that he fed to a neighbor’s dog. It died. Then he mixed up a batch of Robert’s favorite dessert – banana pudding – and sprinkled a bit of arsenic in it.
He said he delivered it to Limon with intentions of her packing it in his lunch, which she did, but claims to have backed out last-minute. Hearn testified that she called Robert to let him know the bananas had spoiled.
The poison pudding plot line is what lends credence to Hearn’s claim that he conspired with Limon to kill Robert. It’s something that Hearn testified he talked with Limon about in emails, except the discovery process never turned up any such correspondence. Hearn said those emails were deleted.
Terry claims Hearn fabricated the story.
When did Hearn deliver the poison pudding to Limon’s house? Terry asked. Hearn couldn’t remember. He gave one or two dates, both of which Terry says are impossible because Robert Limon would have been home both evenings.
And would Limon really pack poison pudding in a fridge her kids had access to if she was, as Hearn testified, a good mother? Terry asked.
And, he asked, why would Hearn have Googled banana pudding recipes if he were conspiring with Limon when he could have gotten her recipe? It had never occurred to Hearn.
Then came the trouble with the dog Hearn claimed to have killed. Hearn testified that he watched the dog eat poison salmon, but didn’t see it die. That struck Terry as suspicious.
“But this was your test run,” Terry said.
Hearn also couldn’t answer when asked what the dog’s name was, or what breed the dog was. He didn’t know his neighbor’s name. He didn’t know the dog’s name. There were no police reports of a dog having died of poisoning, and no neighbors knocked on doors to ask about their dead dog, Terry said.
“Is there any evidence the dog actually died that you’re aware of?” Terry asked.
“Nothing other than circumstantial evidence,” Hearn said, referring to the dog being annoying and barking, then the barking suddenly stopping.
Then there’s the claim that Limon called Robert to warn him about the bananas being spoiled. Hearn said she backed out of the murder plans.
But Terry said that phone records show Limon never called Robert on the days Hearn suggested the pudding was packed in his lunch.
Terry drove the point home: any indication Hearn received that Limon was no longer in love with her husband and wanted him dead were not shared by Limon.
Hearn testified that Limon wasn’t happy with her marriage, and that their discussions had turned dark in late 2013.
But Terry presented Hearn with pages of text messages between Limon and Robert, including the day of his murder. They were peppered with smiley faces and exclamation marks. They had little nicknames for each other. They painted the picture of a couple in love.
Terry’s cross-examination continues Monday.