Carlsbad woman convicted of killing husband could see sentence cut by 25 years
A woman who fatally shot her husband — a popular Carlsbad schoolteacher — is a step closer in her bid to cut her prison sentence by 25 years, a reduction made possible by a new state law and an appeals court decision.
Julie Harper, 45, is serving a sentence of 40 years to life for the 2012 slaying of Jason Harper in their home in a gated Carlsbad community.
But earlier this year, the California 4th District Court of Appeal found that Harper’s case is among those affected by a new law that gives trial judges the power to decide whether a person should serve extra prison time because they used a gun in the commission of a crime.
In Harper’s case, her sentence includes 25 years for using a gun. That 25 years is what’s at issue.
This week, Harper — who has been in prison since 2016 — was in the Vista courtroom of Superior Court Judge Blaine Bowman to have a public defender assigned to her case as she fights for a shorter sentence.
In October 2015, a San Diego County jury convicted Harper of second-degree murder in the shooting death of her 39-year-old husband, a math teacher and volleyball coach at Carlsbad High School.
It was Harper’s second trial. A year earlier, a jury acquitted her of first-degree murder but deadlocked on a second-degree murder charge — although they were leaning toward acquittal.
Prosecutors opted to retry Harper on second-degree murder.
Bowman is the judge who oversaw both trials. He also handed down the lengthy sentence. He had no real choice — the 40 years to life was mandatory. Now Bowman must consider whether to reduce Harper’s sentence.
When sentencing Harper in 2016, Bowman said he found that none of her testimony rang true. He also said she was “inherently untrustworthy and not worthy of belief.”
The judge pointed out that Harper had grabbed a loaded gun, put her finger on the trigger and pointed it at her husband.
In both trials, Harper testified that her 6-foot-7 husband had abused her — an allegation his supporters adamantly reject.
She said their deadly confrontation in their bedroom came the same morning she told her husband that she’d filed for divorce and hired an attorney. She said he came at her in a rage and that she shot him accidentally, but in fear for her life.
Their children — then ages 8, 6 and 1 — were downstairs watching television when the shooting occurred.
Harper did not call 911 but instead left the home with the children, who were unaware of what had happened. She made arrangements to drop them with her sister and hid the gun.
Three jurors from Harper’s second trial attended her sentencing in 2016. At that time, they said they were pleased that the judge found Harper’s testimony not to be credible.
“We thought she was guilty,” one of the jurors said. “We thought she was a liar. We thought she was manipulative.”
In appealing her murder conviction, Harper raised a number of concerns. The appellate court rejected all but the sentencing issue.
San Diego County Deputy Dist. Atty. Keith Watanabe said Jason Harper’s family “now has to face the fact” that Julie Harper’s sentence could be cut.
“I believe it does create some trauma and revictimization for the Harper family, particularly the Harper children, who believed that this sentence was final,” Watanabe said.
Under her current sentence, Harper must serve 40 years before she is eligible for parole. A sentence reduction would mean she would need to serve 15 years before she is eligible for parole.
She is due back in court Oct. 29 for a status hearing. No date for a new sentencing hearing has been set.
Figueroa writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Get breaking news, investigations, analysis and more signature journalism from the Los Angeles Times in your inbox.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.