Witnesses Testify in Case of Man Accused of Stuffing Dead Woman in Suitcase

Joshua M. Palmer, 32, allegedly beat and strangled Shauna Haynes, 21, then stuffed her body into a suitcase dumped near trash bins in downtown San Diego

Disturbing details emerged Wednesday during a preliminary hearing for a San Diego man accused of beating and strangling his co-worker, and stuffing her body into a suitcase that was thrown out with the trash.

Joshua Palmer, 32, is charged in the grisly slaying of Shauna Haynes, 21.

The Case:

On April 6, the suitcase that held the lifeless body of the young woman was found near trash bins outside The Chadwick, a residential hotel in the 600 block of A Street and 7th Avenue in downtown San Diego, where Palmer lived.

Palmer was arrested in connection with Haynes’ killing two days later. He pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree murder. He has been jailed for the past five months, awaiting legal proceedings, with bail set at $2 million.

Palmer and Haynes worked together at the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant in downtown San Diego and were platonic friends. According to prosecutors, Palmer and Haynes went out one night in early April and the pair wound up at Palmer’s apartment.

There, prosecutors said Palmer beat and strangled her, then stuffed her body into a suitcase. He allegedly wiped down his apartment to conceal the crime and sent text messages from the victim’s cell phone to family members to make it appear as if she was still alive.

Following Palmer’s arrest, the suspect’s attorney said Palmer was innocent and said he was Haynes’ friend, not her killer.

Witnesses Take the Stand:

At Palmer's preliminary hearing on Wednesday, several witnesses took the stand. As witnesses spoke, Palmer stared blankly at the stand, looking down from time to time.

Testimony included Bethann Scheber from the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office. 

Scheber talked about the autopsy performed on Haynes' body. Palmer's defense attorney, Katie Belisle, asked Scheber whether she had considered a drug overdose as the cause of death for Haynes.

“No, because generally people who die of a drug overdose are not stuffed in a suitcase and dumped in a garbage can,” Scheber said on the stand.

Witnesses Describe Finding Suitcase (Warning: Graphic Details):

Residents who live and work at The Chadwick also testified, including the men who made the gruesome discovery of the suitcase by the trash cans.

One witness, identified as Mr. Moore, testified that he was taking trash cans out to the curb when he spotted the suitcase about two feet away from the bins. At first, he considered it may have belonged to a transient but when he picked it up, it was unusually heavy.

"I went over to the bag, and I was getting ready to pick it up and it had weight to it," Moore said.

Moore said he noticed hair peeking out of the zipper of the suitcase and it scared him. He dropped the luggage, stared at it and then went and got his friend to come and take a second look.

When his friend came out, they looked at the suitcase some more and noticed insects were flying in and out of the bag. 

"That’s when we thought, we should call the police," Moore testified.

During cross-examination from Belisle, Moore testified that he lived in the room below Palmer at The Chadwick, and would sometimes see him coming into the residential hotel with Haynes, usually after midnight.

Moore said he sometimes heard noise and voices coming from Palmer's room but testified that he didn't hear any loud yelling, screaming, fighting or banging of any kind the night before he found the suitcase.

After Moore, Eduarado Weddle took the stand. Weddle also lives and works at The Chadwick and was called out by fellow residents on April 6 to take a look at the suitcase by the trash bins. Weddle said he saw body parts and hair sticking out of the luggage.

"On the back-end, it looked like somebody’s toes. I went around the front [of the suitcase] and saw hair hanging out of the front," he recalled.

When his friend asked him what he thought about the suitcase, Weddle said he replied, "It looks like there's a body in there."

The men immediately called police.

Weddle said he had seen Palmer in passing at The Chadwick, but did not personally know him. At the time, Weddle lived on the same floor as Palmer, but on the opposite corner.

During cross-examination, Weddle told Palmer's attorney that he also did not hear any screaming or fighting coming from Palmer's room the night before the suitcase was discovered.

San Diego Police Department (SDPD) Officer Thomas McGrath was called to testify at Palmer's preliminary hearing as well.

McGrath was the first officer to respond to the scene at The Chadwick parking lot on April 6. He testified that the dispatcher told him a suitcase had been found near the trash bins, "possibly with a human foot and hair coming out of it."

When McGrath first saw the suitcase, he said he saw toes and black hair peeking out. He put on his gloves and opend the suitcase about 12 to 14 inches to see if there was a body inside.

“I saw a right leg and foot with the toes attached. I identified the body as a white or Hispanic female in her early 20s. At that point, I closed the suitcase,” McGrath explained.

The officer told his partner they had a crime scene and they secured the area around the trash cans and called for back-up.

Co-Workers Testify on Friendship Between Palmer and Haynes:

Employees who worked with Palmer and Haynes at The Old Spaghetti Factory testified Wednesday that Palmer and Haynes were friends, but Palmer wanted more.

Co-worker Diana Gonzalez said Palmer told her he was romantically interested in Haynes and told Gonzalez that Haynes planned to move in with him.

Soon, however, Gonzalez said Palmer said things “weren’t working out” because Haynes was not romantically interested in him.

“He said if she [Haynes] didn’t ‘put out,’ she’d have to move out,” Gonzalez testified.

Gonzalez said Palmer told her that he last time he had seen Haynes was a night when he and Haynes had a sexual encounter. Palmer told Gonzalez that Haynes left afterwards “naked in a blanket with bloody nose from doing cocaine all night.”

NBC 7 has not obtained a toxicology report to confirm if drugs were found in Haynes' body at the time of her murder.

Gonzalez testified that Palmer cried when he found out about Haynes’ death.

Christopher Hall, a general manager at the Old Spaghetti Factory, testified that Palmer was flustered when he told Hall about Haynes’ death.

Hall said Palmer was fired from the restaurant.

Suspect Seemed "Shaken":

Samantha Joyce, who works at an eatery in the Gaslamp Quarter, knew both Palmer and Haynes and testified that she saw them together at the restaurant every so often.

Joyce said Palmer also told her he and Haynes had engaged in sex acts. Joyce said Palmer “seemed shaken” when he told her about Haynes’ death and how the body was found in the suitcase.

Evidence on Palmer's Phone:

Details emerged at the preliminary hearing of evidence recovered by investigators from Palmer's phone. A video was discovered that allegedly showed Palmer assaulting Haynes after her death.

SDPD Det. David Spitzer said a text message to Haynes found on the defendant's phone showed Palmer became jealous after Haynes had a sexual encounter with someone else.

"The message reads, 'I'm sorry, I love you. I accepted my place as a friend but I can't watch you make love to someone else. I know it's selfish but I can't take it. I'm not good enough but two total strangers are. It just detroyed me,'" said Spitzer, reading the message on the stand.

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