“I have to be a good girl. I feel that more than ever. I have to be a good girl for him. He is like my father. I want to be a good girl, God. I want to be a good girl. And I have been a bad girl.”
It was the 17th of August 2014. A Sunday. Thirty eight year old Robert Limon was called in to work to cover a shift for a coworker. It wasn't unusual for him to do extra shifts. He was a hard worker and enjoyed his job.
Robert worked at the train yard in Tehachapi at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, California, United States. It was around a forty five minute drive from his home in Silver Lakes, Helendale, Kern County. He lived there with his wife Sabrina Limon and their two children, Robby and LeAnna. Robert told them that he would be home after his shift. But he never made it home that day.
Sabrina spoke to Robert earlier that morning and he told her he was busy working on the trains and had to get his lunch, a tuna melt, on the go. Sabrina went to visit her mother later that day as she had recently broken her hip. She sent Robert a text message at around 5pm but when she didn't receive a reply, she wasn't concerned as she knew how busy he was. Robert was due home at 8pm but he wasn't home by that time. Sabrina had not heard from him since earlier that day so she sent him text messages and called him multiple times to see where he was but she got no answer.
Sabrina and Robert Limon
A short while later, two of Robert's coworkers knocked on Sabrina's door. They told her they were very sorry but Robert "got hurt" at work. Sabrina later told the Detective in the case that she thought this meant that Robert had had a workplace accident and knew he had suffered blunt force injuries to his head but knew little more than that.
Police investigating the case confirmed that Robert was not involved in a workplace accident, he was murdered. When police asked Sabrina if she knew of anyone who would want to harm Robert, she said she did not. Robert's coworkers, friends and family said the same. They described him as fun loving and easy going.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whomever was responsible for Robert's death.
Robert was found inside one of their buildings in the yard at 6.46 pm. He was last seen by coworkers about 5pm.
He had been shot twice. The Autopsy revealed he was shot in the face and it traveled through and exited his neck. The second shot was a shot to Robert's chest. It went up into the jaw area and lodged in his brain.
Police obtained footage from a surveillance video of a shadowy figure walking around the yard. The person in the footage was wearing heavy clothing and appeared to walk with a limp. When they widened their search to the surrounding area, police obtained footage from a surveillance video at a nearby gas station that showed a person who looked similar to the person seen on the footage from the yard. The person was on a motorcycle and it was close to the time police believed the murder took place.
Police looked into the possibility that the shooting was the result of a robbery that had taken place at the yard. Robert's office had been ransacked. But it didn't seem like a logical explanation as there were offices and businesses nearby that would have had more valuable items if the main motive was robbery. They believed that Robert was targeted.
Sabrina and Robert Limon
As police searched for a possible motive, Sabrina posted multiple messages on her social media accounts expressing how sad she was and how great Robert was:
"Through this pain and unbelievable tragedy, Rob’s love continues on. God blessed US with Rob for the time he did, and the love he gave was more than some ever will feel or show. I will carry it with me where ever I go, and remind our children of it daily as they grow. It’s a feeling of joy, yet I’m totally numb to the fact that I’m left on earth now without him.”
Police began to look into Robert's life to try to establish whether there was anyone in his life that may want him dead despite what his family, friends and coworkers said. They received a call from a man called Jason Bernatene. Jason and his wife Kelly were best friends with Sabrina and Robert. But as police investigated further, they discovered that they were more than friends. They were part of some sort of swinger's type group. Couples would engage in sexual acts with other couples and the Limons were members. But that wasn't what Jason wanted to talk to the police about. He was concerned about a man called Jonathan Hearn and believed that police should talk to him.
Jason knew Jonathan through work and he was at a few of the same social gatherings that he was at. Jason told police that he discovered that Sabrina was having an affair with the twenty four year old firefighter Jonathan prior to Robert's murder. Jason told police that he approached Jonathan when he found out about the affair and told him to stay away from Sabrina. He said that he "lost his mind" and started "ranting" and was "creepy and scary." His warning made no difference. They continued the affair.
Jason's wife Kelly told police that she saw Jonathan call over to Sabrina's house just days after Robert was murdered and he gave her a large bouquet of flowers. She noticed in particular that they were not just any flowers but they happened to be Sabrina's favorite flowers. Jonathan sent Jason a few text messages after Robert's murder and Jason thought they were unusual. That was why he reached out to police. Jason told police that the text messages he received from Jonathan were in relation to seeking forgiveness for how shameful he had been.
Kelly told Dateline that Sabrina shared with her a letter that Jonathan gave her:
“It talked about what a wonderful man Rob was, and how he wants to be the kind of person he was, and all these things.”
Kelly was disturbed by how happy Sabrina appeared to be about the letter in circumstances where nobody had been arrested in relation to Robert's death. She told Kelly:
“‘Isn’t this sweet? Listen to this, listen to how sweet Jonathan is."
Jason and Kelly were not the only ones concerned about the way Jonathan and Sabrina were acting. Detective Robert Meyer of the Kern County Sheriff's Department believed that they both knew something about Robert's death.
Police did not want to reveal that they knew about the affair to Sabrina while the investigation was ongoing. But they did ask her about her marriage. Police were in possession of Robert's phone and it had a number of pictures of naked women on it. Some of the pictures were of her but other pictures were of different women. They asked her if there had been any infidelity in their marriage and if she or Robert were involved with anyone else. They specifically asked her if they had an open marriage and Sabrina said that they did not and that they had a great relationship.
Sabrina's answer made police suspicious. If they engaged in a consensual swinger's type open relationship, then why lie about it? And if she lied about that, then what else was she lying about?
The police investigation, that took place over a three month period, confirmed that Sabrina was having an affair with Jonathan and it had been going on for almost two years.
Detective Robert Meyer wiretapped their phones and set up a plan. His plan was simple. He would give Sabrina details, false details, about their investigation and wait to see if she would share those details with Jonathan. And she did.
When Sabrina received calls from the Detective in relation to how the investigation was going, within a matter of minutes of that call ending, Sabrina would call Jonathan and tell him everything that they told her. The recordings of their calls revealed that they spoke a lot about their love for each other, sins they were involved in and seeking forgiveness from God for what they had done. On one recording, Jonathan told Sabrina to read two Psalms as they would be good for the soul. He recommended Psalm 38 and Psalm 51. Both referenced the story of King David and his lust over Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. David and Bathsheba had an affair and when she became pregnant, David had Uriah killed and married Bathsheba. In the passages, David expresses the guilt he was feeling and sought forgiveness from God.
Psalm 51: 1-2:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
Jonathan told Sabrina that David:
"is a lot like you and I, Sabrina. He made a lot of big mistakes and was someone who committed adultery and went on to kill the guy. He went out of his way to cover up his sin.”
On the calls, Jonathan called on God for forgiveness:
"We've been dirtbags. We've been sinners."
While police were gathering information via the phone recordings, they were also checking out other surveillance from the area and a number of people called the tip hotline. When police obtained a close up of the man from the surveillance footage they showed it to Sabrina and said that someone provided them with a tip that they thought the man was a man called Jon who knew Robert. Police asked Sabrina if she knew a Jon. Sabrina gave police the names of two men she knew, both called John and she did not mention Jonathan. But others who knew Jonathan and saw the image told police they believed it was Jonathan.
Jonathan Hearn and Sabrina Limon
Both Jonathan and Sabrina were arrested and questioned in relation to Robert's murder. Sabrina was released due to lack of evidence. Jonathan was charged with first degree murder. Sabrina was told she would be called to testify against Jonathan. But that never happened. She was arrested again and charged. She did not know it then but Jonathan was ready to talk.
Jonathan agreed to testify against Sabrina to avoid a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 25 years and four months in prison. He accepted his responsibility for voluntary manslaughter with firearm enhancement, attempted murder, poisoning and accessory to murder.
Sabrina was charged with first degree murder. She pleaded not guilty.
At Sabrina's Trial, it was the Prosecution's case that Jonathan was the person who shot and killed Robert but Sabrina conspired with him and they both planned the murder together.
It was the Prosecution's case that Sabrina conspired with Jonathan to plan to kill her husband as she wanted a new life. Prosecutor Eric Smith told the Court that they did not have to just take the word of Jonathan that Sabrina was involved as there was other evidence, including wiretapped phone calls and text messages and the lies she told police, and that evidence indicated she aided and abetted in the killing.
The Court heard that the day Robert was murdered, Jonathan called Sabrina five times and they spoke in total for three hours and forty three minutes. The Court heard that it was Sabrina who told Jonathan where to find Robert at work and the hours he was due to work that day.
It was the Prosecution's case that Sabrina wanted Robert out of the way so she could marry Jonathan and have him raise the two children. The Court also heard that there was a financial motive too. Sabrina received $300,000 in life insurance payouts following her husband's death and there was a possibility she could receive a settlement from Robert's employer as he was killed at his workplace.
Jonathan was the main witness for the Prosecution. He testified that they felt the only way that they could move forward in a relationship was if Robert was dead. They wanted Jonathan to raise the children and wanted them to be raised by Godly parents. The Court heard reference to their love of God and the Bible.
Jonathan testified about the planning that went into Robert's murder. He said that he fell in love with Sabrina over the course of their two year affair, and they wanted her husband out of the way so they could share their lives together.
He told the Court that on the 17th of August 2014, he returned home after a night shift at work and then called Sabrina to discuss the plan before going to the train yard to kill Robert. He testified he and Sabrina went over the layout of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway complex and how he could avoid detection. Sabrina urged him to be careful:
"She warned me to be cautious because he was not somebody 'who would go down without a fight' kind of a thing."
Jonathan told the Court that he drove to Tehachapi on his motorcycle after he removed the bike's license plate. He brought a backpack with a change of clothing and a .45-caliber handgun fitted with a homemade silencer he created using the barrel of a large Maglite flashlight and engine freeze plugs. He went to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train yard in Tehachapi where Robert worked.
When he saw Robert in a garage, Jonathan walked to the east side of the facility and stood between some buildings thinking about the next move. He said a prayer and entered the garage. Jonathan said that he spoke briefly to Robert and when Robert turned his back to stock a refrigerator with water and Gatorade, Jonathan took out the handgun, walked up to him and shot him:
"It was inevitable that Rob needed to die for Sabrina and I to move forward with our relationship.”
After that first shot, Jonathan went into the office and stole some items. He told the Court that he and Sabrina thought it would be best if it looked like a robbery had taken place. Jonathan walked back to where Robert was and shot him a second time in case he wasn't dead.
He testified he called Sabrina and told her it was done. They agreed not to contact each other for a while to avoid getting caught. Jonathan said that after he killed Robert, he felt a sense of relief.
The Court heard that just days after Robert was murdered, Sabrina sent multiple text messages to Jonathan. She didn't even question who could have killed her husband in the text messages and Prosecutors argued that that was because she already had the answer. Instead, she just constantly told Jonathan how much she loved him:
"I adore you Jonathan Hearn, you sexy guy."
The day Robert was killed was not the first attempt made to kill him, according to Jonathan's testimony. Months before Robert's murder, Jonathan testified that they planned to kill him by poisoning him. He ordered arsenic online and mixed arsenic trioxide in banana pudding. He gave it to his neighbor's dog to test it first. Jonathan gave a small container of the pudding to Sabrina and he said that the plan was for Sabrina to give it to Robert so that he could bring it with him to work and have it for his lunch. He testified that Sabrina later told Robert to throw out the pudding and told him that the bananas had gone bad. She was afraid they would get caught.
The Prosecution told the Jury to consider not just Jonathan's testimony but also Sabrina's own words on wiretapped phone calls and thousands of text messages when deciding whether she was guilty or not.
It was the Defense's case that the only evidence the Prosecution had against Sabrina was the testimony of Jonathan and they told the Jury he could not be trusted as he was a cold and calculated killer, one who had received a more lenient sentence on foot of a plea deal. They said that the Prosecution had made a deal with the devil.
Sabrina testified at her Trial. She admitted that she had an affair with Jonathan but said that she knew nothing about his plan to kill her husband.
The Jury heard how Sabrina told Jonathan how to get to Robert's workplace and what hours he would be working the day he was shot dead. The Court heard she used a burner phone to communicate with Jonathan. In her testimony, Sabrina said she gave him her husband’s work schedule but only because she wanted the two of them to get together.
Sabrina testified she was happy in her marriage to Robert. Things changed in 2008 when they began a swinger's lifestyle:
"We opened our marriage bed and changed the dynamics of our sacred bond."
Things were not the same after that but she told the Court she still loved him and had not even decided that she was leaving him. But the new lifestyle caused her to drink a lot and she told the Court they partied and became overly fixated on sex.
When she met Jonathan, he made her feel special. She met him at a time when she was having difficulties in her marriage. They met when she was working at Costco handing out samples and at first, it was just a friendship. He saw her a few times at Costco and asked for her number. Sabrina told the Court that she began to fall for him. He was intelligent and very focused on her. She became addicted to him:
"He was like nobody I'd ever met before."
She described the affair as almost like a second life. She made plans with Jonathan about dreams she had but at the same time, she still loved Robert. She told the Court that she never even contemplated killing her husband.
Her lawyer, Richard Terry, asked her to explain why she lied to police when they asked her if she was involved with anybody else. She said:
"Because I was embarrassed."
Sabrina said that she didn't want her personal life to become public.
Richard referred to the recorded calls and text messages. He argued that there was no evidence in any of them that she knew Jonathan killed Robert:
"There's nothing in there that says, 'Oh by the way, get rid of my husband for me.'"
The Court heard from the two Limon children who both asked the Court not to take their mother away from them.
The Jury deliberated for less than six hours. Sabrina was found guilty of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, soliciting murder and being an accessory after the fact. She was found not guilty on charges of attempted murder and poisoning in relation to the pudding incident.
Sabrina was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison and 16 months to be served after the first 25 to life.
Sabrina's best friend, Karen Hudgins, reacted badly when the verdict was read out. She stormed out of the Court cursing and swearing:
“They sent an innocent woman to prison for life.”
Sabrina's family are standing by her. Her cousin Krystal Barr said:
“This is wrong. It’s all wrong. They’ve got it all wrong. How can they believe a psychopath? How?”
But the reality is that, regardless of what her family and friends think, the Jury heard all of the evidence from Jonathan's testimony to the recordings and they found her guilty.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
"My family and myself are good, decent and very honest people."
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