A man who antagonized his neighbors and was gunned down in a hail of bullets was a “jerk” who got what was coming to him, a judge said, and reduced a jury’s murder conviction.
Danny Palm, a retired Navy commander, faced 15 years to life in prison for the November 1995 slaying of John Harper Jr.
But Judge William Mudd said Thursday that the jury was wrong to convict Palm of second-degree murder and such a long sentence would be cruel. Mudd reduced the conviction to manslaughter.
“Occasionally, in the real world, victims bring about their own death,” Mudd said.
Under state law, Palm, 53, must serve about 8-1/2 years of the 10-year sentence, getting credit for the year he has already spent in custody.
Palm cornered Harper and emptied a clip of ammunition into him, loaded another clip and fired until all the bullets were used. Prosecutors argued it was premeditated murder; Palm claimed he blacked out before the shooting.
Mudd, who said he has never before set aside a jury verdict, called the 48-year-old Harper a “jerk” and “ne’er-do-well” who “set the wheels in motion for his own death.”
Harper moved into his parents’ house in the San Diego suburb of Spring Valley about 2-1/2 years before his death.
During his time there, he tailgated drivers and tried to run them off the road, neighbors testified. He also swore at neighbors, threw rocks and threatened to burn down a home.
In one letter Palm wrote to officials in his quest to drive Harper from the neighborhood, he said, “If something isn’t done soon, I’m going to take matters in my own hands.”
The victim’s half brother, John Gilbert Harper, was angry.
“The message is: You can get a gun and waste somebody and get manslaughter,” Harper said. “The judge should have honored the jury’s verdict.”