A surprise witness nearly had the prosecution doing cartwheels Thursday when she testified briefly in the preliminary hearing of a Salt Lake man charged with drowning his wife in a backyard fishpond.

But a few minutes into her testimony, defense lawyers for David Mead had Stormy Dawn Dunne Simon taken off the stand, arguing her last-minute appearance left them no time to prepare to cross-examine her.Third District Judge Anne Boyden agreed, and Simon, long the object of an intense search by both prosecution and private investigators, stepped off the stand.

Prosecutor Howard Lemcke said he will put Simon, Mead's former girlfriend, on the stand again when the hearing concludes May 8.

David Mead, who turned 31 Friday, is charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder, both first-degree felonies, in his wife's death. Medical testimony presented Wednesday is that Pamela Mead was struck on the back of the head and then drowned in three feet of water in a fishpond built just days before her death in the back yard of their Capitol Hill home.

The family of Pamela Stokes Mead, who died Aug. 15, 1994, had searched for Simon for months after they filed a wrongful death suit against David Mead in federal court.

Investigators for the Salt Lake police department and district attorney's office also looked for her unsuccessfully for months, said Lemcke. After Mead described her as "a stripper," investigators spent futile time in bars. She never was a stripper but is a business manager and mother of two children.

Simon surfaced when she called Lemcke Thursday morning after seeing television news coverage of the first day of the preliminary hearing Wednesday night, Lemcke said.

It was talking with Pamela Mead's mother, Sinnie Stokes, that convinced Simon to come forward, Lemcke said.

"She saw a fellow mother's anguish. It moved her. She couldn't sleep; she stayed up all night and called the district attorney's office in the morning, saying she had information," said Lemcke.

Lemcke said he and Salt Lake police detective Jill Candland talked to Simon over lunch, then decided to put her on the stand in the afternoon.

Sinnie Stokes said it was a conversation her daughter Pamela overheard between David Mead and Simon that caused her to fear for her life.

"Pamela woke up and picked up the telephone to make a hair appointment," said Stokes. "She heard a conversation between David Mead and Stormy in which David was saying how much he hated her (Pamela) and was going to get rid of her for the insurance money," said Stokes.

Pamela Mead called her mother and told her and Pamela's sister about the conversation, Stokes said, and they immediately drove to Salt Lake from Colorado and took her from her home.

Before her testimony was terminated, Simon said that when she first began dating David Mead, she didn't know he was married. After she found out, she broke off the relationship, she said, but David Mead continued to call her.

Lemcke said Simon is prepared to testify that David Mead told her that if he divorced Pamela Mead he would lose their jointly-owned business, so he planned to get rid of her instead and collect on a $250,000 insurance policy he took out on her.

Lemcke said he's overjoyed at finding Simon, comparing his feelings to a hamster running on its exercise wheel: "Sometimes he gets so happy, he just rides all the way around on it," Lemcke said.

Also testifying Thursday was James Hendrix, David Mead's cousin. He testified that Mead offered him cocaine and cash and offered to set him up as a partner in dealing drugs if he would kill Pamela Mead.

Hendrix is currently serving time in the state prison for robbing David Mead. He broke into and burglarized Mead's house twice, stealing money and jewelry to trade for cocaine.

Hendrix is currently a crew chief on an inmate firefighting crew based in Moab. The Department of Corrections borrowed Gov. Mike Leavitt's airplane to fly him from Moab to Salt Lake for his court appearance.

Defense attorneys said Hendrix is a felon and a liar who wants to gain an advantage in his own criminal affairs by testifying against his cousin.