An attorney for the man accused in the grisly slaying of a young San Diego woman whose body was found stuffed in a suitcase claims the suspect was the victim’s friend, not her killer.
San Diego County Deputy Public Defender Katie Belisle released a statement to NBC 7 Wednesday about suspect Joshua Palmer, 32, who is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of his co-worker, Shauna Haynes, 21.
“Mr. Palmer, Miss Haynes, and their friends worked in the bar and restaurant industry here in San Diego. A group familiar with each other, who worked together into the wee hours of the morning and socialized together after work,” Belisle said. “Mr. Palmer was a friend of Miss Haynes - not her murderer.”
Palmer was arrested on April 8 in San Diego on suspicion of first-degree murder in connection with Haynes’ death. At his arraignment Tuesday, Palmer pleaded not guilty. His bail was set at $2 million.
Prosecutors alleged Palmer – who worked with Haynes at the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant in downtown San Diego – went out one night last week with Haynes.
Prosecutors said the pair went to Palmer’s home after that outing. There, Palmer allegedly beat and strangled Haynes and then stuffed her body into a suitcase.
He allegedly dumped the luggage near some trash bins behind his apartment complex in the 1300 block of 7th Avenue and A Street in downtown San Diego.
A resident discovered the suitcase on April 6 – with Haynes’ lifeless body inside – and homicide detectives with the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) launched an investigation into the gruesome crime.
At Palmer’s arraignment, San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Martin Doyle said the suspect attempted to cover Haynes’ murder by cleaning his home and sending messages from the victim’s 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.”
The motive for the killing has yet to be disclosed by investigators. Prosecutors confirmed Palmer and Haynes worked together at the Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown's Gaslamp Quarter – not far from where Haynes was found dead.
They were platonic friends, prosecutors said.
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.
Court records say that 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.
Palmer is scheduled to appear in court again on April 28. Booking records indicate his preliminary hearing has been tentatively scheduled for June 13.
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.
Meanwhile, NBC 7 spoke with an acquaintance of Palmer’s Wednesday, who wished to remain anonymous.
The suspect’s acquaintance said he met Palmer through classes at Landmark, an institution that offers training and development programs.
He said Landmark cut ties with Palmer after he made some disturbing statements.
"He had the most intense eyes ever," the suspect’s acquaintance told NBC 7. "You look at him and you wonder what’s going on in his head. There [are] some things he said that gave people the heebie-jeebies."
A spokesperson for Landmark confirmed Palmer took some classes there in 2015, but hasn't participated in the program since September 2015.
The Landmark spokesperson released this statement to NBC 7 Wednesday:
"He made a disturbing statement about his past military service, which we reported to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which informed us that there was no basis for what Mr. Palmer had said, and that he had been dismissed from the United States Marines after three months of boot camp."
At that point, Landmark told Palmer he was no longer welcome to participate in its programs.
This was concerning to at least one person who knew him.
"Landmark was his life. He was there all the time," Palmer’s acquaintance explained. "I was concerned about his well-being when they kicked him out."
NBC 7 reached out the Old Spaghetti Factory again on Wednesday and a spokesperson for the eatery said the company did not want to comment on the relationship between Haynes and Palmer.
Instead, a company spokesperson said the restaurant is focused on supporting Haynes’ family and helping employees cope with her tragic death.
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.