Suspect Beat, Strangled and Stuffed Victim in Suitcase: Prosecutors

Joshua M. Palmer, 32, is accused of killing Shauna Haynes, 21, and stuffing her body in a suitcase dumped near trash bins in downtown San Diego

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NBC 7 San Diego / Inset: Facebook

A man charged in the grisly slaying of a San Diego woman last week allegedly beat and strangled his victim before stuffing her body into a suitcase and wiping down his apartment to conceal the killing, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Joshua M. Palmer, 32, was arrested Friday on one count of first-degree murder in the death of Shauna Haynes, 21.

At Palmer's arraignment in a San Diego courtroom on Tuesday, prosecutors said that after the slaying, the suspect cleaned his apartment and sent misleading text messages to friends in an effort to cover up the slaying.

Palmer pleaded not guilty to the killing. A judge set his bail at $2 million.

Though the motive for the killing has yet to be disclosed by investigators, prosecutors did confirm that Palmer and Haynes worked together at the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant in downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter -- not far from where Haynes was found dead. 

The pair were platonic friends, prosecutors said, and had gone out together last week. After their outing, the pair went back to Palmer's home. There, Palmer allegedly beat and strangled Haynes and then attempted to cover his tracks by sending a series of text messages from the victim's cell phone.

“He wiped down his apartment, gathered the bedding and clothing,” San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Martin Doyle said. “[He] made a number of misleading text messages from the victim’s phone to family members in an effort to disguise what he had done.”

Haynes’ body was found on April 6 inside a suitcase dumped near trash bins in the 1300 block of 7th Avenue and A Street in downtown San Diego behind an apartment complex where Palmer lived.

A man who lives in the area, a former Navy service member identified only as Phil, told police he spotted the suitcase on the ground as he took out his trash. He walked over to the luggage and was soon faced with the horrifying discovery.

Phil told NBC 7 he knew something was terribly wrong when he saw strands of human hair peeking out of the zipper of the suitcase.

"That’s going to be an image that I – that’s going to be on my mind for a while. You don’t erase that. It’s a person," Phil told NBC 7 in an interview last week. "I have a mother, a sister, family friends that I love. No one deserves to be thrown out with the trash like that."

According to court records, Palmer has no criminal history in San Diego County.

Records show Palmer did have some run-ins with the law in two cities where he once resided: Webster in Harris County, Texas, and Yorba Linda in Orange County, California.

According to court records, in 2006 Harris County prosecutors filed a charge for a fraudulent check against Palmer. The amount stolen was less than $500. In 2010, Harris County courts dismissed the case after no arrest was made.

In 2012, Palmer pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor DUI charge in Orange County. He was sentenced to two days in jail and informal probation in connection with that case, along with court fines. Records indicate he may have had some sort of probation violation in 2015, leading to his probation being extended to 54 months, but details of that violation were not available.

Haynes was a 2013 graduate of Grossmont High School in San Diego's East County. 

Haynes’ friends held a tearful vigil for the young woman Sunday at the site where the suitcase was found. They described Haynes as a vibrant, caring person with a warm demeanor.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information on this case can call the SDPD’S Homicide Unit at (619) 531-2293 or Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.

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