Julie Harper Sentenced to 40 Years to Life for Husband's Murder

Julie Harper admits she shot and killed her husband, Jason Harper, on Aug. 7, 2012

After speaking in court for nearly 40 minutes, a Carlsbad mother found guilty of second-degree murder for shooting and killing her husband in their home while their children watched cartoons in another room was sentenced to 40 years to life behind bars Friday.

A sentencing hearing lasting nearly two hours was held in a north San Diego courthouse for Julie Harper, 42, who killed her husband, Jason Harper, on Aug. 7, 2012.

For nearly 40 minutes, Julie spoke in court about her life, her three children and her trial and retrial, but did not show clear remorse for killing her husband. She did, at certain points, apologize to her family, her children and her in-laws for putting them through such trying times.

The couple's children -- Jake, Jackie and Josh -- were ages eight, six and one, respectively, at the time of Jason's murder. They are now 12, 10 and five.

“Whatever happens here today, I am sorry to my family for all they’ve been through, to the Harpers for all they’ve been through, to my children,” Julie said.

Julie admitted to fatally shooting Jason in their North County home, but claims she did it in self-defense, alleging she feared Jason would kill or rape her.

At her sentencing, she reminded Judge Blaine Bowman that Jason was a former athlete who stood at 6-foot-7 and weighed 240 pounds.

"I was terrified," she said.

Friday’s sentencing was the final chapter in Julie’s case.

As the sentencing phase began, her high-profile attorney, Paul Pfingst, asked Judge Bowman for two things: to reduce Julie's second-degree murder charge to manslaughter and for a new trial.

Pfingst argued that Julie's killing of Jason happened during a heated argument about their divorce. He said the murder was akin to a crime of passion.

The judge, however, said the court did not agree with this, and he denied the attorney's request for a new trial.

Judge Bowman said Julie’s testimony “lacks credibility” and called her statements on the stand during her September 2015 retrial “untrustworthy.”

Particularly, the judge said Julie’s prior statements about burying the murder weapon to preserve the evidence for trial were “unbelievable," saying she had other options.

“There are a number of things she could’ve done with that gun,” Judge Bowman stated, adding there is rampant speculation as to what actually happened to the murder weapon, from Julie throwing it in a lake, ocean or dumpster, to her throwing it off the Coronado Bay Bridge.

“Only one person knows where the murder weapon is,” the judge added.

He said the court finds that Julie’s actions both before and after Jason’s slaying support the guilty verdict reached at retrial. Seconds before handing down the 40 years to life sentence, the judge told Julie any sentence she receives is better than her husband's fate.

“You have to understand that your husband got a death sentence. Your husband is never coming back. Jason can’t be brought back,” Judge Bowman said. “Tragically, your selfish actions have left your children without a mother, without a father.”

Gut-wrenching impact statements were read by the prosecutor, San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Ken Watanabe, at Julie’s sentencing, including statements from the couple’s two eldest children, 12-year-old Jake and 10-year-old Jackie.

The statements from both children expressed anger towards Julie and extreme grief over the killing of their father.

“Julie Harper has caused much pain and misery to all the members of the Harper family. She murdered with no sense of consequence, leaving me and my siblings parentless,” Jake’s statement said, in part. “The suffering and pain we have endured, that she caused, should be answered with justice.”

The letter from Jackie talked about how the young girl refuses to refer to Julie as her mother.

“I no longer have a mother because she was so selfish and self-centered. Because you killed our dad, you are no longer “Mom.” You are Julie. I will never call you “Mom” again for what you did,” Jackie’s statement read.

“We will never feel the same, or be the same, because you killed our father. You made my brothers and me orphans,” the girl’s statement continued. “My brothers and I loved our dad so much, and you stole that from us. We were never able to say goodbye to him. You made sure of that.”

As Watanabe read the children's statements, Julie stared blankly. At one point, a tear ran down her face as she struggled to remain composed.

The court also heard a tearful impact statement from Jason’s mother, Lina Harper, who said all her son wanted was to be part of his children’s lives and watch them grow up.

“He loved all three of them so much,” cried Lina, adding that the Harper children miss Jason every day.

Lina, who has custody of the children along with her husband, Homer Harper, said the children just want this nightmare to be over – and they want to forget about Julie.

“They don’t want anything that reminds them of her,” said Lina.

The grandmother talked about how the children “fear” Julie and how they sometimes wake from nightmares that include Julie abducting them. She said the kids are sometimes on edge, alarmed by strange noises.

But, more than three years later, Lina said the Harper children are resilient, happy kids, who are doing well in school, sports and other activities.

As Lina spoke of the children’s lives, Julie, at times, closed her eyes.

Jason’s mother, holding back tears, begged the judge for the maximum sentence for the woman who killed Jason.

“Julie Harper is a selfish, arrogant and vile person. She threw away her children and made them orphans when she murdered their dad. She ended the life of a very good man. She deserves to bear the consequences of her crime.”

For her part, during her turn to speak, Julie maintained her innocence that she was an abused wife who was pushed over the edge.

“My husband was a different man behind closed doors,” she sobbed. “I’m still recovering from everything he did to me all those years.”

Julie went on to claim that Jason did “vulgar, degrading things” to her for years, and that she tried to spare her children from witnessing their fights, which she said often happened behind their bedroom door.

“I am not guilty of the charge for which I’m here. I’m innocent of any criminal wrongdoing,” Julie argued.

She said she feels her environment is better behind bars than it was during her marriage to Jason.

Crying, Julie also recalled the last time she was with her kids, as she put them into their seats in the car and took them to the hospital for physical evaluations, per police orders, following Jason’s killing.

She said the children – who were unharmed – were expecting to come home that night to be with Julie’s father. That did not happen, and the children were taken into protective custody.

“I am so sorry, because I told them I’d be back in six days for them. I had no idea that was going to happen. Mommy wanted to come back to them,” she sobbed. “My children, my darling Jack, Jaqueline and Josh, Mommy wants to apologize to you for everything you’ve been through. I was trying to spare you suffering from the beginning."

She then went on a tangent about Child Protective Services and how her children were handled following her arrest.

At that point, Julie had been talking for about 30 minutes, and Judge Bowman interrupted her.

“This is not the appropriate form for you to vent about your children and the process,” Judge Bowman said, asking Julie to get back to the sentencing at hand.

Julie went on to talk about how she wants to help other women in abusive relationships, even if she’s in prison.

“I understand, even if other people don’t understand what happens behind closed doors,” she said, addressing abused women.

She asked the judge not give her a “death in prison” sentence, but rather some chance at release and rehabilitation.

“While it is so tragic that my husband is gone, it doesn’t seem that it would serve any purpose for me to just die in prison,” she said.

Julie's first trial was in the fall of 2014, and at that trial, she was acquitted on first-degree murder charges. Prosecutors sought to retry her on second-degree murder charges, and her retrial began Sept. 14, 2015. Following the retrial, a jury found her guilty of second-degree murder on Oct. 8, 2015.

Julie's retrial last year included dramatic, emotional testimony from Jason's family members and the couple's children. Julie also took the stand for three days, recounting graphic details of her relationship with Jason and the chilling moment she pulled the trigger and killed him.

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