Judge won’t reduce 40-to-life sentence for woman who killed husband in their Carlsbad home
A woman who fatally shot her husband in their Carlsbad bedroom more than a decade ago as their children watched cartoons downstairs lost her bid Thursday to shave time off her decades-long prison sentence.
Vista Superior Court Judge Blaine Bowman declined to either reduce Julie Harper’s murder conviction to manslaughter, or cut any years off her 40-years-to-life sentence for second-degree murder and gun-use allegations in the 2012 death of her husband, Jason Harper, 39.
Last year, the California Supreme Court said trial judges have the option to reduce the extra time tacked on to prison sentences for people who used a firearm to seriously injure or kill someone. That decision was behind Harper’s request for a lower sentence.
The judge said it would not serve justice to reduce her conviction or prison term.
“I know the laws have changed, but the facts have not,” said Bowman, who presided over her trials and previous requests to cut her sentence. “This is not a close call for the court.”
Bowman said he found Harper’s trial testimony was not credible, and that the killing did not happen in the heat of passion or self-defense. Harper’s actions the day of the killing, he said, were “selfish.”
The judge noted that when he initially sentenced Harper in 2016, he had the ability to reduce her conviction to manslaughter or to not impose an extra 25 years for using a gun. But then, as now, he opted not to do so.
“The argument that there was no malice in this killing flies in the face of the evidence that was presented,” he said.
Harper’s appellate attorney, Gloria Collins, argued Thursday that she reviewed the court record and found no evidence of malice — a required element to convict someone of murder. She said Harper had been taking “heavy duty” prescribed narcotics and “was clearly drowning, was clearly troubled.”
Harper, an inmate at California Institution for Women in Corona, attended her resentencing hearing via Zoom, as did her late husband’s 83-year-old mother, who is raising the couple’s children. Her husband, who was in his late 80s, died in recent years.
Lina Harper asked Bowman not to cut her former daughter-in-law’s sentence, saying Julie Harper robbed her son of 40 years of life and should not be freed until she serves at least that much time.
“If ever there was a case that deserves the added years for use of a gun, this is it,” Lina Harper said.
Before Bowman ruled, Julie Harper apologized to her former mother-in-law, saying she was “ashamed” of her actions “and of the hurt and loss I caused your family.”
“I feel an agonizing remorse for my selfish, irresponsible actions that created a void in your life that can never be replaced,” she said.
Harper also apologized to her children, who were ages 8, 6 and 1 at the time. They are now ages 19, 17 and 12. Her apology included her 7-year-old daughter, conceived through in vitro fertilization while out of custody on bail and facing murder charges.
Harper talked for more than 25 minutes, during which she cited different cases and laws, talked about her good behavior in custody and spoke of being a victim of “intimate partner violence.”
Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe countered that claim, telling the judge there was no evidence of physical abuse.
At trial, Julie Harper testified that she and her husband, a popular Carlsbad High School math teacher and volleyball coach, argued the morning of Aug. 7, 2012. She said she grabbed the two-barrel Derringer she’d tucked under her pillow and fired it accidentally but in fear of her life.
The bullet entered through her husband’s left side and pierced his heart, killing him.
Harper did not call 911, but instead took her children to her sister’s house and ditched the gun. It has not been found.
In 2014, a jury acquitted her of first-degree murder. The jury deadlocked on the second-degree murder charge, but leaned 9-3 toward acquittal.
At retrial in 2015, Harper was convicted of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life. Bowman imposed an extra 25 years to life for the use of a gun.
The case was featured on a 2016 Dateline episode titled “The House on Badger Lane.”
In 2018, she won a chance to cut her sentence after state law changed to give judges more discretion about tacking on the extra 25 years to life for using a gun. Bowman declined to change the sentence.
In January 2022, the California Supreme Court issued a decision — in a different case — allowing judges to add less time than 25 years to life in cases where a gun was used.
Last May, the California Supreme Court sent Harper’s case back to the Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Diego, which sent the case back to Bowman to reconsider shaving some of Harper’s sentence.
Bowman said Thursday that neither he nor the jury had believed Harper when she took the witness stand years ago, and that even though she had cried as she spoke in court “there was never a single tear that was shed during her testimony.”