Julie Harper

I must be in the mood to discuss "wives who kill their husband and then make excuses to get away with it" today since this will be my second one.  As I have said before I do not do these types of cases very often because they almost seem routine anymore, but in this case and the case of Dorothy Glaser that I discussed earlier today it was not so much about the crimes that were shocking but the women behind them.  This case is also one of those that every time I think I am done with my research I think of something else I need to check first and I seem to open a whole new can of worms.  Like Dorothy Glaser, Julie Harper too admitted to shooting her husband in self defense.  The difference between the two is that Dorothy Glaser was at least smart enough to convince everyone else it was plausible before it happened.  

Now before I go any further into this case I want to make clear that I am not someone who does not believe in the battered woman's syndrome or that a woman's brain can essentially be re-wired from abuse but I do believe in these things.  However, I also believe there are women out there who claim these things when they have never happened or play what I call "the girl card" to get out of things and I truly believe that is exactly what happened here in this case. I am going to put it straight up out there that I believe that Julie Harper is a manipulative psychopath who used whatever she had at her disposal to get her way and twists situations to fit her needs.  I usually wait to state opinions such as these until the end but again, I guess I am in just one of those moods today. As always you are welcome to come to your own conclusions in this case and comment on those you disagree with.  I am always open to suggestions, facts and discussion but going into this case this is my opinion... and strictly my opinion.

On August 7, 2012 the Carlsbad California police department got a phone call from a former DA, now local criminal attorney, Paul Pfingst requesting that a welfare check be done "on the second floor" of a home belonging to Julie and Jason Harper.  My research tends to indicate that this was all that was said and nothing more, so it seems that the officers had little idea what they were walking into.  Although, I would gander to guess that the seasoned officers knew something was fishy if a defense attorney is calling you to a home.  What they found in what appeared to be a messy (almost hoarding like) master bedroom, under blankets was the body of Jason Harper.  It was obvious that he had a gunshot wound and was no longer alive. The following afternoon Julie Harper surrendered to the police while at the home of her parents. She made no statement what so ever to the police or prosecutors.... ever.  I do not mean that she simply asked for her attorney to be present or she refused to speak on the day of her arrest. I mean that the prosecutors did not know what her voice sounded like aside from a few videos they may or may not have seen just before trial.  

On the day of her arrest, August 8th,  her parents' home was apparently searched.  Eight days later the home was searched again.  It was then that Julie's father apparently led them to where he had hidden in the garage attic a back pack that he had found after her arrest.  I could not determine when the back pack was placed there or where her father found it in the first place.  Officers would claim they had searched that area on the 8th and it was not there nor was it mentioned.  It seems that Julie's father would admit to finding it and calling Paul Pfingst about it.  When the police got a hold of it apparently inside they found passports for Julie and her three children, a last will and testament for Julie and Jason and a .32 caliber gun (it was not the gun used to shoot Jason).  Apparently Julie's dad offered that the bag had also contained two cell phones and between 30 and 40 thousand dollars in it when he found it. However, those things were gone and according to Julie's dad Pfingst took those items. This would become a huge contention later as the district attorney would file in court to have Pfingst investigated for for tampering with evidence.  The prosecutor in the case, Keith Watanabe, would claim that this back pack was evidence showing that Julie Harper had packed a "get away" bag and had planned the murder of her husband.  In January of 2014 the investigation was done and the judge ruled that Pfingst had done nothing wrong.  I am unsure if I agree with this.

Julie Harper sat quietly in jail until she finally made bail in September of 2013, more than a year after her husband's death.  It would be another year before she would face trial and the prosecutors would finally hear Julie's story.

So, what was her story?  Well according to Julie her marriage was failing.  To that  most people on both sides of this story would agree.  She would claim that Jason was verbally and physically abusive to her.  I saw something pointed out in the comments of an article in which it seemed to always be mentioned that Jason stood 6'7" and weighed 240 and Julie and her defense were always quick to point it out.  She claimed that Jason had raped her in excess of 30 times and that she had put that in her journal.  Investigators had gotten her journal and there were notations in which the word "sex" was in it but Julie would claim on the stand that that was "code" for rape.  She claimed that on the morning of August  7, 2012, while her children were downstairs watching cartoons she and Jason were upstairs arguing.  She had filed for divorce a few days prior (August 2) and claims she was informing him of this.  She says be began lunging at her and so she picked up a gun... only to scare him of course.... he kept coming at her and some how it "accidentally" went off.  She did give the make of the gun, but then again she kind of had to considering the bullet removed from Jason told a story.  But... she had buried the gun... not out of guilt or to hide evidence but according to her attorney to preserve evidence.  And yet to this day the gun has never been recovered.  Julie said to spare her children the sight she had covered Jason's body with blankets, gathered her children and left the home. The children, who were 8,6, and 1 at the time claim (at least the older ones) only heard a "thump" from upstairs. She then took the kids to her sister's house and less than an hour after shooting her husband she was inside a coffee shop apparently showing no signs of trauma.  She then went to her father's office where she told him Jason was dead and together they contacted Paul Pfingst, who himself would call the police several hours later.  

So what proof did Julie have of the abuse allegations?  Well, very little.  She had a few cell phone video's that she had made of her and Jason fighting... well, Jason yelling but of course what led up to the yelling was not recorded. Prosecutors would argue that she had done things to push him to those points simply to record his anger but conveniently leaving out her role.  No one ever claimed to have seen any bruises, or marks, nor had anyone outside the home seen Jason act in such a manner.  Now, let me state that I agree with Julie Harper in the fact that people do not know what goes on behind closed doors and there are people who are very good at being a different person when they are outside their home. But her story just simply did not sound believable.  

The trial ended in which the jury acquitted Julie on the first degree murder charges but they were hung 9-3 for acquittal on second degree charges.  The prosecutor and victims families were devastated.  Quite honestly most people questioned how they could have come to such a decision. So, Julie Harper remained free until the prosecutors decided what to do.

There was often a lot of talk of double jeopardy being in play here but that was not the case, let me explain.  Quite often more than one charge of murder (or a variation of ) is given to a jury during instructions and there are many reasons for this.  Most often it is to secure a conviction in some way.  Maybe the jury does not see the case as the prosecutor does so they do not want to go in with only a first degree charge because if the jury thinks they did not prove their case then they can never charge the person again, because THAT would be double jeopardy.  However, I suspect since Julie Harper had not spoken to the investigators and they only had their suspicions as to what she would say they were not as confident going in with just a first degree murder charge.  The jury did not acquit her on all the charge.  They hung on the second degree charges, therefore a mistrial was called for that charge only.  This meant that the prosecutor still had the right to try her again on the second degree murder charge, and that is exactly what he did.

Julie's second trial was scheduled to begin in April of 2015.  However, in March of that year her lawyer filed for a continuance stating that Julie was pregnant and due in mid-May of that year and stressed that the trial would be too much for her.  He was successful in his quest but that did not stop the questions. Julie would proclaim that in between her trials she had gotten pregnant by in-vitro. Her three older children had been taken at some point by CPS and were in the care of Jason's family. When asked why she would do this she would simply say she had been a "good mother" and "had so much love to give" that she wanted another child.  Prosecutors would claim that around the time of her first trial neighbors claimed to have seen a man in her home, apparently in his underwear and that it was likely that man was the father of her child.  In fact, seventeen days after Jason's murder she wrote a letter to a man calling him "the love of my life."  Although apparently they could never prove this man was the father of her child.  I find this so bizarre.  I do not believe her youngest child, a girl, was conceived through in-vitro and I do not know why she would go with that story as opposed to just simply admitting she had gotten pregnant by a (former apparently at that point) boyfriend.  Her husband had been dead over two years before she got pregnant.  To say she was impregnated by in-vitro, simply to bring a child into the world while her life was basically in limbo just seems more callous than anything.  But at any rate she did get pregnant and had her baby and her second trial would begin in September 2015... one year after her first trial.

Prosecutors felt they had an advantage this time.  They knew the defense strategy and they had more information themselves.  Two new things that the prosecutors asked to be let in was a gun (not the murder weapon) that was the same make and model of the murder weapon and have it demonstrated in court that the trigger was not one that could be pulled by accident as Julie had claimed.  Secondly they wanted in Julie's drug use.  In one of the searches of the home investigators had found over 52 bottles of pills (apparently most empty) prescribed to her.  They included things like Oxycontin, Morphine and Valium.  Prosecutors tallied up things and figured out she had been prescribed 4,025 narcotics in a period of 355 days.  According to them that added up to 10 opiates and 1.5 sleeping pills a day.  They also had Julie's daughter, Jackie would would testify that the period prior to her father's death her mother was in her room and sleeping most of the time.  Neighbors would testify that they rarely, if ever saw Julie around this time but they would see Jason outside nearly every day playing with the kids.  The theory was that while Jason worked a full time job he was also doing everything for the children.  To be fair, at the time of his death their youngest child was only 18 months old, although their oldest was 8, I did not hear anything about others watching the children while he worked so I have to assume she was left home at least with the youngest child on a regular basis.  Both of these things that the prosecutor asked for were granted.  

And so the second trial began with a new jury to decide Julie's fate and whether or not she was guilty of second degree murder.  Julie once again testified in her own behalf speaking of the abuse she supposedly suffered at the hands of her husband.  When asked why she never told anyone about it she said she was "embarrassed"... (which is a common and good answer when you are abused). She was also asked why she never reported these things and she said that was out of fear that he would lose his job as a High School math teacher and volleyball coach and their finances were already strained.  Most would argue that the finances were strained but that it was from Julie's spending.  A picture of the master bedroom shows very much what looks like a hoarded room so this does seem plausible.  Julie would continue to say the gun went off by accident while he was coming towards her and she feared she would be raped or killed by him.  Again, she was quick to point out his size, and it would not be the last time she would do so. Prosecutors would argue that the angle of the bullet that entered Jason and pierced his heart came from the back, disputing her claim he was coming towards her.  

In the end the jury did not believe her and they found her guilty.  In fact, after their verdict was announced some of the jury members seemed to wonder what was wrong with the first jury.  It seems that had this jury been present for the first trial they all would have had no issue in finding her guilty of the first degree charge.   Pfingst of course disagreed with the verdict and all but blamed society for not accepting that not all "battered women" act the same and because Julie did not act as they expected they did not believe her story.  In November of 2015 the defense filed a motion asking for several things.  First and foremost they asked that sentencing be delayed for a period of two months.  I am unsure what their reasons for this was, but they must have been good because the judge granted it.  They also argued that Julie had "auto-immune issues" that were not being cared for properly in the jail and wanted the judge to order that a doctor be called in and that basically she get stronger medication (imagine that, a drug addict wanting pills in jail).  The judge stated that he would request but not order this be looked into.  They also asked that she get a 2nd mattress while in the jail because her pain was so great that the thin mattress on the metal bed was uncomfortable.  I can only imagine the judge's thoughts as he denied that request.  The last request was that she be allowed full contact visits with her youngest child that was now in the care of her family.  The judge also denied this.

In January of 2016 Julie Harper was sentenced to the maximum allowed by law... 40 years to life.  Prior to her sentencing impact statements were read by family members.  The prosecutor read letters from Julie's two oldest children, Jake (now 12) and Jackie (now 10).  Neither child would refer to Julie as their mother and expressed a lot of anger towards here which seems reasonable. However, again, playing devil's advocate here a bit, I felt like some of the wording I heard from the letters seemed a bit "coached" or more mature than their ages.  Jason's mother would proclaim that while they still had issues, and sometimes woke in the middle of the night fearing Julie was coming for them, they were getting better.  Julie then stood up and apparently talked for an excess of 40 minutes.  Once again she brought up her husband's size, proclaimed her innocence and argued that she was a battered wife.  At one point she apparently went on a tangent about how CPS had taken her other children and her feelings towards the agency.  The judge stopped her and basically told her that was not the place for that and she needed to get back to the issue at hand.  Her lawyer then spoke asking that the judge lower the verdict from second degree murder to manslaughter and made a motion for a new trial, both were denied.  Before he pronounced sentencing, the judge, who had presided at both trials, called Julie untrustworthy, lacking credibility, unbelievable, and a danger to society.  

So, now you know the story, and I have already expressed my opinion... but why do I believe that? First, there were no signs of any sort of abuse.  Her father and sister both testified at her second trial. And while her father had many "I do not know," "I do not remember," and 5th Amendment answer (despite being granted immunity) he never mentioned abuse.  Defense attorney's would say that due to his age his memory failed him often.  Her sister also seemed to be very elusive about things and does mention abuse but nothing specific.  When asked at the second trial why she was just mentioning the abuse she said because she had never been asked before. But again, she was less than specific and less than believable. Secondly, I think the gun tells us a whole lot.  It was said, apparently by her attorney, that she "buried" the gun "to preserve it as evidence."  However, it was never ever found and I never heard another real word about it.  If she truly buried it, where did she bury it?  Could she not supposedly find it? Prosecutors would claim that she likely threw it in a body of water somewhere.  She covers up Jason's body, then leaves, takes her children to her sister, goes and buys coffee and goes to her dad's work.  All the while she never once called 911 to report what had happened.  In fact, the shooting occurred before 9:00 in the morning and it was just before midnight before the police are notified.  Then she sits in jail, never once speaking to investigators or prosecutors... with or without her attorney present and never tells them her husband abused her on a regular basis or that she shot him in self defense.  Yes, I know she did not have to do so, but she also did not have to get on the stand, not once, but twice and tell this story.  In fact, juries are told if a defendant does not take the stand in their own defense it is not to be used against them.  But, she never spoke to them. She never tried to clear things up to end things quickly so she could have her children and carry on with her life, although neighbors would testify even through the arrest and trials she did approach them as if nothing happened and did in fact carry on with her life.  In the end I agree with the judge but I would add callous to those traits he mentioned.  This woman shot her husband in their bedroom while their children were downstairs and just simply thought she would get away with it.

My research showed that she was finally moved to a state women's facility on February 3, 2016.  Unlike other state sites in which I can tell you if or when a prisoner is up for parole, California seems different.  In fact you can really only find when they were transferred to a facility and little more, including charges or sentences.  All that I could find was that she will not be eligible for parole until she is in her 70's.  She still maintains her innocence of course and has given at least one interview since her conviction.  Most of what she talked about pertained to her youngest child and how much she missed her and that the hardest thing about prison was being away from that child.  She says very little about her older children.

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