A jury found a Carlsbad mother guilty of second-degree murder Thursday for shooting her husband three years ago inside their home while their children were in another room watching cartoons.
Julie Harper admitted to fatally shooting her husband, Jason Harper, in their North County home on Aug. 7, 2012, but claims she did it in self-defense, alleging that she feared Jason would kill or rape her.
At her first trial one year ago, Julie was acquitted on first-degree murder charges. Prosecutors sought to retry her on second-degree murder charges and her retrial began Sept. 14.
On Thursday, Julie reached for a tissue and began to cry as the verdict was read and she learned her fate. She now faces 40 years to life in prison at her upcoming sentencing. The jury also found an allegation to be true: personal discharge of a firearm causing death.
San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe said many things were different in this retrial, including jurors who were familiar with marriage and divorce.
"They knew what their defense was and we had the opportunity to specifically disprove it," said Watanabe. "We disproved it by looking through various aspects of her journals and writings. We looked through her day planner and calendar, which disproved a lot of her lies."
But Julie’s defense attorney, Paul Pfingst, maintained that the jury made the wrong decision.
"I think we're still in a place where there are preconceptions about how a battered wife should behave, and if she doesn't behave that way, I think that's something that is difficult to explain to people still," he said.
Closing arguments in the retrial wrapped up Wednesday, and jurors began deliberations that same afternoon.
Watanabe argued the wounds suffered by Jason indicate he was shot from behind — not killed in self-defense.
He also argued there was zero history of documented abuse in the Harpers’ marriage, adding, “Julie says [Jason] was a rapist without anyone knowing.”
Meanwhile, Pfingst said in his closing argument that Julie killed Jason in self-defense and buried the gun she used in the killing out of panic, not guilt.
"Innocent people know that they may not believed and they know that their life is about to take a dramatic turn for the worse," said Pfingst.
He said Julie used bad judgment when making that decision, thinking she would turn the weapon over to police after a few days.
To this day, the gun has never been found.
Julie’s retrial has included dramatic, emotional testimony from many witnesses, including Jason’s family members, neighbors and even the couple’s two young children.
The defendant herself also took the stand for three consecutive days last week, offering graphic details of her troubled marriage and the alleged verbal and physical abuse that she says ultimately drove her to kill her husband.
Under oath, Julie claimed Jason raped her more than 30 times and that she kept a journal of those encounters, allegedly using the word “sex” and a code for “rape” in her writings.
That claim was heavily challenged by Watanabe.
Julie also claimed she never reported the abuse or rape because she was “embarrassed.” She said she feared pressing charges against Jason would lead to him lose his job as a Carlsbad high school teacher and thus impact their family’s finances, which were already in dire straits.
On the stand, Julie also recounted the chilling moment when she shot Jason to death after they got into a heated argument over finances and her filing for divorce.
“I turned around and saw him coming toward me. He said, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ I told him to stop. I heard a loud noise and felt [the gun] jerk. He froze, stopped and fell forward,” she testified.
Julie said she didn’t know how to tell her children, who were in another room, that their dad was dead. She didn’t want them to see his body, so she covered Jason with a blanket and other items.
She testified that after the murder, she dropped the kids off at her sister’s house, went to a local coffee shop and visited her father at his office. She told her father her husband was dead, and he told her they needed to call police and hire a lawyer.