A woman who admitted to killing her husband three years ago in their Carlsbad home while their kids were in another room took the stand Tuesday in her retrial, recalling just how allegedly toxic her marriage became in the years leading up to the murder.
Julie Harper admits she shot and killed her husband, Jason Harper, on Aug. 7, 2012, but has said she did it because she feared for her safety and was afraid her husband would kill or rape her. The couple’s children were in another part of the home watching television at the time of the shooting.
After an acquittal on first-degree murder charges in her first trial last October, Harper now faces second-degree murder charges in her retrial, which continued Tuesday in north San Diego.
Visibly nervous, Julie testified Tuesday, telling her side of the story to jurors.
She began by recounting details of her past to defense attorney Paul Pfingst, including her life as a straight-A student, as well as details of her health, family life and relationship with Jason.
Julie said she and Jason first met in Hermosa Beach, Calif., in 2000. Four months into the relationship, Julie said she was concerned they had major differences, including that Jason was not religious and was critical of organized religion.
She also said she worried they had significant differences when it came to values and work ethic, calling him "lazy."
Julie said when they met she had a strong work ethic and Jason was a part-time temp teacher who went surfing every afternoon.
Ultimately, those differences led them to break up a few months into their relationship.
However, the couple resumed dating shortly thereafter. They were together another six or seven months before they got engaged, Julie said.
Julie testified that she suggested Jason move into her condo, but he didn’t want to because he wanted to live closer to his favorite surfing spot instead. Although she didn’t want to, Julie said she sold her condo.
Julie testified that Jason tried to change her in several ways, including the way she dressed.
She said he often made fun of her preppy polo shirts, calling her a “geek” or “nerd,” and instead bought her surf-style clothing to wear, including spaghetti strap tank tops that bared her midriff.
After they were married, Julie testified that Jason would often get angry and lose his temper over “everyday things.”
“The yelling had gotten so frequent I put up a calendar and put ‘Xs’ where there was yelling,” she said, adding that his behavior seemed “abnormal.”
Julie said they purchased books on how to improve their marriage.
She said their differences were even more pronounced when it came to their finances. Julie said she was making $100,000 per year at her job, while Jason brought home about $3,000 a month.
Julie also talked about their children, and how Jason didn’t seem interested in bonding with them when he became a father.
She said they had different approaches when it came to caring for their son who had some issues as an infant that caused him to cry a lot.
“Even after feeding he would continue screaming. Jason always wanted me to put him back in the crib. He would get very angry when I went to pick him up,” she said.
Julie claimed Jason began to verbally abuse her in 2009, allegedly screaming at her, criticizing her and making derogatory, cutting remarks that included calling her lazy and fat on a daily basis. She said Jason would often curse at her in front of their children.
“Sometimes I’d be speechless and crying,” she said. “Other times, I asked him to stop and would close windows. I was so embarrassed – I didn’t want our neighbors to hear.”
Julie testified that in January 2010, the abuse allegedly turned physical and she claimed Jason raped her.
Julie said she told Jason she would be bringing in less money from work and he allegedly became “enraged” over the news and how it would impact their finances.
“He just came to a whole new level of enraged,” she testified. “It was very scary to be there. He was flailing his arms above me, screaming, spitting on me.”
Julie alleged Jason turned red and eventually began grabbing and shaking her, pushing her against a wall in their bedroom, pressing his body into her. She testified that Jason then yanked her bottoms off and raped her, despite her asking him to stop.
Julie said she was in a state of shock afterwards and couldn’t look at Jason. They never talked about what happened either, she claimed.
In 2011, Julie said she and Jason began discussing the possibility of getting a divorce.
She also testified that Jason never seemed to want to pay for expenses for their children or their household, and expected her to take care of those things.
On the stand, Julie also talked about her medical conditions, saying she suffers from several forms of arthritis, including Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
As a result, she said she began experiencing fatigue, trouble sleeping and joint pain in 2008. She said her health conditions and pain worsened over the years, which proved challenging as a mother of two.
“I started to have pain in joints were I didn’t have previous injuries,” she testified.
Julie said her health condition is an auto-immune disorder that has caused significant inflammation to her organs. She said medications she has taken over time have caused side effects, including weight gain.
Julie testified that Jason thought she was faking her medical problems and expressed little concern about her well-being.
Since the retrial began two weeks ago, many witnesses have taken the stand, including Jason’s mother and brother, as well as neighbors who lived near the Harpers.
Much of that testimony has been emotional, including Jason’s younger brother, Brian Harper, who broke down in court recounting the day he learned Jason had been shot to death.
Last week, the couple’s two young children also took the stand, also fighting back tears.
At the beginning of his testimony, the couple’s son told the courtroom he didn’t want to be there, but wanted to be in school instead. He then recounted how he and his sister were watching cartoons in another room when they suddenly heard a “thud.”
The couple’s daughter recalled similar details on the stand, saying that when they went to check on their parents in the other room, her mother told them their father was dead.
The girl said she now calls her mother by her first name and refuses to call her mom. She said Julie often took pills and slept a lot before the murder.
A neighbor testified Julie’s demeanor changed drastically over the time he knew the family. He said she was allegedly so “out of it,” he didn’t want his child around her.
Meanwhile, last week, an FBI special agent testified that Jason was already dead when someone used his phone to send a text to his brother saying he was running errands and that Julie had the kids. The special agent said cell phone records place Julie’s phone and Jason’s phone at the same coffee shop following his slaying.
Jason was a high school teacher in Carlsbad.
After Julie’s acquittal last fall on first-degree murder charges, prosecutors decided to retry her on lesser charges.