A Carlsbad woman accused of fatally shooting her schoolteacher husband in their home before fleeing with their three children pleaded not guilty Monday to murder and was ordered held on $2 million bail.
The prosecution had sought bail of $5 million for Julie Elizabeth Harper.
The defendant 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 Jason Harper.
Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe alleged the defendant shot her spouse between 8 and 9 a.m. last Tuesday and didn't surrender to police until 18 hours later. "During that time period, the gun has been removed from the crime scene, as well as the victim's cell phone and wallet," Watanabe told Judge Richard Mills.
"During that 18-hour period, the defendant had enough time in order to hide evidence or manipulate evidence, and for that reason we believe she does pose a problem to the investigation in the case and is a danger to herself and the community.'' 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.
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. Tuesday, the Carlsbad police were called and asked to do a welfare check at the couple's home. The victim, a 39-year-old teacher and volleyball coach – was found face down with a gunshot wound to the side. The bullet went through the victim's rib cage and penetrated his heart, Watanabe said.
About 10:30 a.m., the victim's brother had called him but got no answer. About an hour later, the brother got a text from the victim's phone saying he was "out running errands," according to Watanabe.
Pfingst said Julie Harper made a domestic violence call to Carlsbad police last November. When police arrived, Jason Harper was asked to leave the residence to cool off, Pfingst told reporters. "It's always difficult talking about what happens in a marriage behind closed doors," Pfingst said. "People outside the marriage may see one thing, people inside the marriage may see something entirely different. And obviously this is one of those marriages.'' Pfingst said the couple's two older children described behavior in the marriage that revealed "more than just significant problems,'' including yelling and berating on almost a daily basis. "It's a very, very troubling, sad, tragic end to a marriage,'' Pfingst said. 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. Julie Harper, a homemaker, has been taking several medications for a chronic arthritic condition, Pfingst said. He said the defense has been cooperating with the criminal investigation. Pfingst also said his client is worried about her children and wants to make sure they're OK.
The victim's mother said his family was proud of the man and the father he had become. "He had integrity. He was honest. He taught his children what was right,'' Lina Harper said. "He had high expectations for himself, as a teacher and a volleyball coach. We can't believe that he's gone. We're heartbroken that his children no longer have their dad. We miss him so much.''
The defendant faces a maximum of 50 years to life if convicted of murder and the use of a gun.
A bail review was set for Aug. 21 and a preliminary hearing for Nov. 2.
–City News Service