While giving the eulogy at Robert Limon's funeral service, Kelly Bernatene described Limon's wife as her best friend and someone who was "too sweet to be true."
Her impression of Sabrina Limon soon changed.
Bernatene noticed vehicles she believed belonged to Sabrina Limon's lover parked outside the Limon house in Helendale within days of Robert Limon's shooting death at a railway yard in Tehachapi.
And as more time passed with no arrest, Bernatene and her then-husband began to wonder if the lover, former Redlands firefighter Jonathan Hearn, had something to do with Robert Limon's death.
Hearn has since admitted he shot Robert Limon, and Bernatene no longer has any doubt regarding the involvement of her former best friend.
"I believe (Sabrina Limon) told Jonathan to kill Rob," Bernatene testified Tuesday, eliciting a gasp from a woman in the audience.
Defense attorney Richard Terry advanced on the witness stand and asked Bernatene if it wasn't true she was making baseless assumptions.
"You want to believe that, right?" he asked.
Bernatene said it's a horrible thing to think of someone who used to be her best friend, but it's true. She said she believes Sabrina Limon was involved in and should pay for Robert Limon's killing.
On Tuesday, the second day of Sabrina Limon's trial on murder and other charges, both Bernatene and her husband testified to their suspicions about Hearn and Sabrina Limon following Robert Limon's death on Aug. 17, 2014.
The Bernatenes tipped Kern County sheriff's investigators off to the affair. Sabrina Limon had earlier denied to investigators that either she or her husband were seeing other people.
Kelly Bernatene's ex-husband, Jason Bernatene, testified he turned over to investigators a voicemail message and letter from Hearn he described as "strange." Their contents weren't disclosed Tuesday.
After hearing from the Bernatenes, investigators began conducting surveillance on Hearn, 27, and 37-year-old Sabrina Limon. Two occasions where they were spotted together were testified to in court by sheriff's Deputy Sean Mountjoy.
The deputy testified on one occasion he sat next to Sabrina Limon and Hearn at a Round Table Pizza in Apple Valley. They kissed and hugged at times, Mountjoy said, and on this and other occasions Hearn appeared to be acting as a father figure to Sabrina Limon's children.
Sheriff's investigators conducted a wiretap of the phones they identified as being in the possession of Hearn and Sabrina Limon.
Analysis of the phones turned up more than 7,000 contacts, including both text messages and phone calls, between the phones, Mountjoy said. That number included 5,909 contacts on what the deputy said was a "burner" phone in Limon's possession that had no subscriber information attached to it.
Such phones, also called prepaid cellphones, are sometimes used to make it difficult to track who the user is.
Noting her husband found out in March 2014 that Sabrina Limon was still having an affair, isn't it possible, Terry asked, that she bought the burner to continue the affair in secret?
Mountjoy said he has no way of knowing what she and Hearn were thinking.
Terry spent considerable time questioning witnesses, particularly the Bernatenes, about the lifestyle of the Limons. The attorney has previously said the couple had been in an open marriage for years and part of a "swingers group," showing sex outside the marriage wasn't limited between Sabrina Limon and Hearn.
Jason Bernatene, however, took issue with Terry's characterization of the couples' relationships.
"There was no swingers group, sir," he said.
"According to you, sir," Terry responded.
Smiling, Bernatene said, "According to me."
But Bernatene, a San Bernardino County firefighter, eventually said he and Kelly Bernatene engaged in sex acts, but not intercourse, with the Limons. Smirking, he repeatedly stressed there wasn't a swingers group or "wife swapping" occurring on trips they made with the Limons and other couples.
The Bernatenes, like the Limons, lived in Helendale, an unincorporated community in the Mojave Desert, at the time these outings occurred.
Kelly Bernatene was far more direct than her ex-husband in her answers regarding sexual activity with the Limons. She said she and Jason Bernatene, the Limons and other couples enjoyed partying and sometimes got "wild."
She testified she performed sex acts with Robert Limon, but only when Jason Bernatene was present, and there was never intercourse.
"He was my friend," she said of Robert Limon. "He was my good friend. We were all best friends."
In earlier testimony, Jason Bernatene said he met Hearn through work around 2010 or 2011. Hearn was a paramedic at a fire station where Bernatene sometimes worked overtime.
He said he was at first "very impressed" with Hearn, who at 21 had already become a paramedic and seemed to have his life planned out.
Bernatene described Hearn as very intelligent, well-spoken, proper, but said he seemed "kind of sheltered." He said Hearn seemed like he could achieve a lot, and he imagined him more as a doctor or an intellectual type.
"I told him on several occasions that he was too smart to be a fireman," Bernatene said.
Hearn moved on to another fire station, but Bernatene said he kept receiving text messages from him. In the messages, Hearn would first compliment him about something, then ask to hang out, Bernatene testified.
Specifically, he asked to go on outings with Bernatene, his wife and the Limons, Bernatene said. He said he learned Hearn and Sabrina Limon had met while she was handing out samples at a Costco in Victorville.
Bernatene testified he never invited Hearn — he said the texting "got a little weird" — but saw him when he, the Limons and other friends went to the Beef 'O' Brady's pub in Hesperia in March 2013 to watch one of Sabrina Limon's friends play in a band.
He said he greeted Hearn and they talked a while. Later, he noticed Hearn hanging out with Sabrina Limon and her cousins. He was impressed Hearn, whom he considered reserved, was making friends so quickly.
But in 2014, Bernatene said, he found out during a phone call with Hearn that he was having an affair with Sabrina Limon. He said he told Hearn to stay away from the Limons and not contact him anymore.
Despite being warned off, prosecutors say Hearn continued to see Sabrina Limon and that the two began plotting her husband's death.
At first they considered poisoning him, prosecutors say, but later abandoned that plan in favor of shooting him at a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway shop in an industrial area of Tehachapi where he sometimes received overtime work. Hearn has admitted to approaching Robert Limon while he was alone and twice shooting him.
Hearn has agreed to testify at Sabrina Limon's trial in exchange for a prison sentence of 25 years and four months.
Terry has argued there is no evidence Sabrina Limon was involved in her husband's death except for Hearn, who he said can't be trusted. Hearn, like Limon, had faced life in prison before agreeing to testify.
Both Sabrina Limon and Hearn were arrested in November 2014, but Limon was released without being charged. She was rearrested in January after Hearn agreed to testify at her trial in exchange for a sentence of 25 years and four months in prison.
The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday with more testimony from Mountjoy.