Jennifer Kritsch became close friends with Tori Lynn Knapp when the two worked together at Highland Elementary School.
Knapp's children became like her own. She considered herself a second mother to Knapp's son, Parker Chamberlin.
Then Chamberlin, 15 at the time, took a knife and stabbed his mother 35 times.
In Kern County Superior Court last week, Kritsch testified she felt "catastrophic" pain and emptiness upon hearing of Knapp's brutal slaying in 2001. There's still pain.
And while prison officials have recommended Chamberlin as a candidate for early release due to his good performance in prison and changes to state law, Kritsch, among many others, disagrees.
"I love him, I forgive him, but he needs to pay the consequences for that bad choice," Kritsch testified Feb. 11.
Following three days of testimony, Superior Court Judge Michael G. Bush said he will have a ruling on Chamberlin's future March 13.
Among the options, Bush could resentence Chamberlin to probation, in which case he would be immediately released but remain under supervision. There are other options Bush can consider that would bring Chamberlin up for parole before his currently scheduled parole hearing in 2023.
Or the judge could decide to let Chamberlin's sentence of 26 years to life remain as is, meaning he'd return to prison until the 2023 hearing.
But Bush told relatives and friends of both Knapp and Chamberlin that one thing is certain: Chamberlin will one day be released from custody.
Concerned and unconvinced
Richard Moore, the father of Knapp and grandfather of Chamberlin, testified during the resenting hearing that his daughter was a "high-energy" person who was quick to joke and devoted to her family and students.
He remembers being struck by how much her students adored her.
"Kids would run up to her and grab her by the hand," Moore said.
She and Chamberlin were inseparable, he said. Or at least appeared to be.
Moore said a detective who was present when Chamberlin confessed to the murder told him Chamberlin's first question was, "What's going to happen to me?"
While many people at that time considered Chamberlin to be a conscientious young man, Moore testified he knew better. He said his daughter months earlier had discovered Chamberlin had stolen roughly $1,800 from her bank account in small increments.
When Knapp called Moore about the theft, Moore said he told her to have Chamberlin arrested. But she couldn't bring herself to do that. When Knapp confronted Chamberlin about the theft, Moore testified Chamberlin was only concerned about who his mother was going to tell and how it would hurt his image.
Debbie Hankins, who described herself as best friends with Knapp, told the court Chamberlin was a "smart, cute, good student."
She testified Knapp got into debt and had to cut back on spending, including what Chamberlin received as an allowance. That didn't sit well with Chamberlin, she said.
It's not surprising Chamberlin has done so well while in prison, Hankins testified. She said he gave all appearances of having a bright, successful future ahead of him while in high school, too.
What concerns her is what will happen when Chamberlin's released and something happens that bothers him.
"How can anyone know he won't reoffend?" she said.
Ready to give him a second chance
Chamberlin's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Peter Kang, wrote in court documents filed ahead of the resentencing hearing that Chamberlin has "a demonstrated, sustained and overwhelming record of rehabilitation" and should be released.
"Multiple individuals that work and interact regularly with inmates who know Mr. Chamberlin personally, who have no incentive to support his case, attest to his reformed character and suitability for a release," Kang wrote.
"All the letters share a common core belief — that he has proven time and time again that he is worthy of being released back to society so that he may begin to have the same positive impact he has made as an inmate."
During the resentencing hearing, a psychologist testified Chamberlin shows no signs of psychopathy and poses minimal risk if released. Counselors who worked with Chamberlin in prison said he was hard-working, caring and selfless.
Chamberlin's paternal grandmother has offered him housing. Kang said in documents his client has a "comprehensive and secure re-entry plan in place."
In prison, Chamberlin became a certified addictions treatment counselor through the California Association for Alcohol and Drug Educators and the California Association for DUI Treatment Programs.
Chamberlin will be able to apply for entry level positions in Bakersfield and throughout California, Kang wrote. He currently has a job offer from The Freedom to Choose Project, which has as its mission helping former inmates become productive members of society.
In all, Bush has a lot to consider. He acknowledged Wednesday in court that it's a difficult decision, and he wasn't yet sure how he would rule.
Not least among his considerations is the testimony of Chamberlin himself.
Now 33, Chamberlin testified he's changed completely from the confused, selfish young man he was at the time of the slaying. Back then he made impulsive decisions he couldn't explain, he said. He worried about his image, and based his entire sense of self on what others thought of him.
Every day he feels remorse over his mother's killing, Chamberlin testified. He sobbed in court. He said he feels no resentment against those who never want him to experience freedom.
If released, Chamberlin said, he'll work to help others and make something positive out of his life.
Among other things, Bush has to decide whether Chamberlin truly has changed, whether he's deserving of an early shot at freedom.
Or whether he should stay behind bars a few more years and let a parole board then decide.
Either way, the ruling will divide those who have been attending the hearing and add yet another chapter to one of Bakersfield's grislier murders.