Lawyer for woman accused in husband's murder claims self-defense - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Lawyer for woman accused in husband's murder claims self-defense

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VISTA (CNS) - A mother of three murdered her schoolteacher-husband in their Carlsbad home and waited a day and a half before turning herself in, a prosecutor said Monday, but a defense attorney said his client shot her spouse in self-defense because she couldn't take his abuse anymore.

Julie Elizabeth Harper, 41, is charged in the Aug. 7, 2012, death of 39-year-old Jason Harper, a math teacher and volleyball coach at Carlsbad High School.

In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe told jurors that the defendant shot her husband once in the side during a morning argument in their bedroom while their three young children watched cartoons downstairs. The defendant then left the home with a "getaway bag" instead of calling for help, Watanabe said.

Jason Harper's body was discovered face-down under some blankets and other items after 11 p.m.

His wife surrendered to police the next day at her father's Scripps Ranch home.

"This case is about murder," Watanabe said, telling the jury that Harper shot her husband with an unregistered handgun, which has never been found.

Harper told her 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter that their father had fallen off a chair and that they needed to leave the residence, the prosecutor said.

Watanabe said Julie Harper had become more and more of a recluse and the couple was headed for divorce.

A week before her husband's death, the defendant forged his signature and withdrew $9,000 from two banks and later withdrew $11,000 from her daughter's college fund, the prosecutor said.

On Aug. 2, five days before the killing, she filed for divorce, requesting custody of the children and possession of their home, Watanabe said.

Defense attorney Paul Pfingst told the jury that the couple's children told authorities that their father was verbally abusive toward their mother and called her a "fat pig" and other names when she gained weight during her third pregnancy.

Pfingst said his client -- a stay-at-home mom who suffered from a painful arthritic condition and from Plantar fasciitis -- stayed in the marriage to try to keep the family together, but Jason Harper didn't want to go through an expensive divorce and grew to hate his wife because she didn't work or contribute to the household financially.

"She could not take what he was doing to her," Pfingst said.

The couple's 8-year-old son told authorities that his father had an explosive temper and called his mother a "(expletive) b----" in front of all three children.

The son said his parents -- who slept apart in the same room -- were arguing about the whereabouts of Jason's computer the morning of the killing.

The couple's 6-year-old daughter told authorities that "Daddy just can't stand mom," the defense attorney said.

Pfingst said Julie Harper -- who will testify in her own defense -- put a "getaway bag" together, with cash, passports and other items after reading about them on domestic violence websites.

Pfingst said his shot her husband in self-defense.

"She just couldn't do it anymore. She just couldn't live with him anymore," the defense attorney told the jury.

The defendant faces up to 50 years to life in prison if convicted.

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