Woman accused of killing schoolteacher husband to stand trial

Julie Harper charged in death of Jason Harper

VISTA, Calif. - A Carlsbad woman accused of fatally shooting her schoolteacher-husband in their home before fleeing with their three children must stand trial on murder charges, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Julie Elizabeth Harper, 39, is charged in the Aug. 7 death of Jason Harper, her husband of more than 10 years.

The defendant – who's being held in lieu of $2 million bail – had filed for divorce a week earlier, claiming in court documents that she endured verbal abuse as well as pushing and shoving at the hands of her husband.

After a two-day preliminary hearing, Vista Superior Court Judge Robert Kearney ruled that enough evidence had been presented to order the defendant to stand trial on the murder charge and a gun-use allegation. A readiness conference was set for Feb. 6 and a tentative trial date set for March 27.

Julie Harper faces 50 years to life in prison if convicted.

Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe alleged the defendant shot her spouse between 8 and 9 a.m. and didn't surrender to police until 18 hours later.

The couple's 8- and 6-year-old children told investigators they heard a "thump" and their father yell the morning of the shooting. When the children arrived at their parents' bedroom, the door was barricaded and their mother said their father had fallen off a chair, according to Watanabe.

Carlsbad police Detective Jim Willis testified that the couple's 8-year-old son told police that his parents often argued about bills, taxes and meals.

The arguing "became uncontrollable" after a Thanksgiving 2011 blowup in which Jason Harper did not eat dinner with his family, the 8-year-old told police.

The boy said his father would swear at his mother in front of the children, and said "he didn't care about her," Willis testified. The detective said the child told investigators that his father wanted a divorce but his mother wanted to keep the family together.

The morning of the killing, the couple argued about putting his computer on her desk, their 6-year-old daughter told police, according to Willis.

After the shooting, the defendant took the two children and the couple's 18-month-old son and went to a coffee shop, a neighbor's house for a "play date," then to a play area, the prosecutor said. She then dropped off the children at her sister's home in Clairemont and disappeared, Watanabe said.

About 11 p.m., defense attorney Paul Pfingst called Carlsbad police and asked them to do a welfare check at the couple's home. The victim -- a 39-year-old Carlsbad High School math teacher and volleyball coach -- was found face-down with a gunshot wound to the side.

Pfingst said his client tried to use the courts to dissolve the marriage.

"Obviously, that did not work out as she planned," her attorney said.

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