On August 17, 2014, Robert Limon was shot dead at his job at the BNSF railyard in Tehachapi, California, in a crime scene staged to look like a botched robbery.
In fact, that’s initially what investigators thought it was. As they began to dig into the case, however, they found a twisted web that could have been ripped from the screens of any number of police procedural TV shows, featuring Bible verses justifying murder, poisoned pudding, open marriages, and a love triangle gone murderously wrong.
Robert and Sabrina Limon—the "it couple"
Robert and his wife Sabrina were described by friends and family as an “it couple,” known for the booze-fueled parties they often threw for their closest friends, who they called “the wolf pack.” According to former Kern County Detective Tommy Robbins, Robert “was well-liked by everyone and no one could imagine any reason why someone would want to kill [him].”
Yet, someone did. In 2008, Robert and Sabrina decided to spice up their love life by exploring an open marriage.
“They went on adult vacations,” Sabrina’s sister later told 20/20. “They partied a lot at the North Lake.”
During this time, according to her sister, Sabrina grew “tired of being in an open marriage.” She tried to convince her husband to go back to church, and she was “drinking so much, all the time, that she was pretty numb.”
Hatching a deadly plan
Then, something changed. Sabrina was working part-time at Costco when she met Jonathan Hearn. He was a firefighter who “swept Sabrina off her feet,” according to ABC News. The two bonded over their shared Christian faith and began having an affair behind Robert’s back. When he eventually discovered intimate texts on his wife’s phone, Robert Limon demanded that Sabrina put an end to the affair, but she didn’t. Instead, according to Hearn, they hatched a deadly plan.
“Hi God,” Hearn can be heard saying during a conversation between the couple after detectives wiretapped their phones in the wake of Robert’s murder. “We are on our knees for a reason. We have been dirtbags, we’ve been sinners. We’ve been selfish and we sinned.”
Initially, however, authorities were unaware of the affair or even the existence of Jonathan Hearn. It was only as they began trying to track down figures seen on security camera footage around the time of the murder that they were alerted to the affair. Jason Bernatene, a friend of the Limon family, received a “strange voicemail” from Hearn, who seemed “very apologetic for Rob’s death.”
Who was to blame?
This was the tip that led investigators to Hearn, who was later identified as a figure on a motorcycle in security footage immediately prior to Robert Limon’s murder. Once Hearn was arrested, he struck a plea deal in exchange for testifying about Sabrina’s involvement in her husband’s murder. According to Hearn, while he was the one who pulled the trigger, his lover had helped him plan the crime in detail.
Hearn said that he had pleaded with Sabrina to divorce her husband, but she had said that he would “honestly rather be dead than divorced” and that “losing her would essentially kill him.”
From there, the plot to end Robert Limon’s life was set into motion. Their goal was to slay Robert Limon so that Hearn and Sabrina could be married, making him the stepfather of her two children with Robert, who could then be raised by “godly parents.”
In fact, according to Hearn, the successful shooting wasn’t even the first such attempt. He claimed that the couple had previously planned to poison Robert Limon’s banana pudding with arsenic but hadn’t gone through with it. When that failed, he said, Sabrina provided him with Robert’s work schedule and a layout of the facility where he would be working on the day of the fatal shooting.
Robert rarely worked at the Tehachapi railyard, and when he did, he was usually alone. Located some 85 miles from his home, it was an unlikely spot for an ambush, but according to documents from an appellate trial in Sabrina’s case, that was exactly the reason it was chosen. Sabrina allegedly knew that Robert would be working there that day, that he would be by himself, and she provided Hearn with the information so that he could carry out the execution.
The jury’s ultimate decision
Sabrina, for her part, pled not guilty to all of the charges against her. Testifying in her own defense, she denied the poisoning plot and claimed that she had no knowledge of Hearn’s plans to murder her husband – or that he had done so.
When confronted with wiretap evidence that showed she had called Hearn on a burner phone to warn him about new information in the investigation, she claimed that she simply told her lover what was going on because he wanted to know. “I trusted him,” she said. “He told me that, you know, just the dangers of what could happen when an affair is exposed, how the police think and how they work.”
The jury didn’t buy it, however, and in February of 2018, Sabrina Limon was convicted of first-degree murder, attempted murder, solicitation of murder, and conspiracy and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. She continued to deny the allegations, and an appeal was filed, but as recently as January of 2023, the California Supreme Court denied a petition to review her conviction. For now, Sabrina Limon remains behind bars at the California Institution for Women in Chino, California.
Due to his plea deal, Hearn received a lighter sentence. Rather than murder, he was charged with manslaughter, and convicted to 25 years and four months. With its sordid details of infidelity, open relationships, religious motives, and so much more, the case drew national media attention, inspiring an episode of Dateline and at least one true crime book. The swinging lifestyle of the “it couple,” Sabrina’s religious objections, and the love triangle that ultimately led to her husband’s murder often threatened to overshadow the details of the crime itself, and the victims it left behind, including Robert and Sabrina’s two children.
As of today, both Sabrina Limon and Jonathan Hearn remain behind bars for the murder of Robert Limon. She will potentially be eligible for parole in 2033.
Featured photo: Oxygen True Crime; Peter Gargiulo / Unsplash