San Diego

Prosecutors Won't Seek Death Penalty in Trial of Suitcase Murder Suspect

Joshua Matthew Palmer, 33, allegedly beat and strangled Shauna Haynes, 21, then stuffed her body into a suitcase dumped near trash bins in downtown San Diego

Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty, but rather life in prison, against a San Diego man suspected of strangling and killing his young co-worker and stuffing her body into a suitcase that was thrown out with the trash.

On Thursday – exactly one year to the date of the gruesome discovery of the suitcase – the San Diego County District Attorney’s office confirmed prosecutors will pursue a sentence of life in prison without parole for Joshua Palmer, 33, in connection with the slaying of Shauna Haynes, 21.

Palmer’s trial is slated to start on Aug. 21 in the San Diego courtroom of Judge Joan Weber.

Palmer is charged with murder and special circumstance allegations of murder during a rape. He’s also charged with murder during sodomy and murder during a rape by an instrument.

According to prosecutors, Palmer killed Haynes in early April 2016 after he watched her have a sexual encounter with two other people in the room where Palmer lived at The Chadwick, a residential hotel in downtown San Diego.

Joshua Palmer, a San Diego man accused of killing his co-worker, Shauna Haynes, and stuffing her body into a suitcase, will stand trial for her murder, a judge ruled. Due to special circumstances of rape and sodomy added to the first-degree murder charge, he could face the death penalty. NBC 7’s Liberty Zabala reports.

The Case:

On April 6, 2016, the suitcase that held the lifeless body of Haynes was found near trash bins outside The Chadwick, in the 600 block of A Street and 7th Avenue.

Two days later, Palmer was arrested in connection with Haynes’ killing. He pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree murder. He has been jailed for the past year, awaiting legal proceedings.

Palmer and Haynes worked together at the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant in downtown San Diego and were platonic friends.

According to witness Chelsea Shea, who took the stand in Palmer’s preliminary hearing in September 2016, she had drinks with Palmer at a bar on April 4, 2016. She agreed to go back to his room at The Chadwick that night, where the pair had sex.

Graphic cell phone video recovered by the FBI is leading authorities to believe that there may be more victims of defendant Joshua Palmer. NBC 7’s Wendy Fry has more.

While they were having sex, Shea said Haynes arrived at Palmer’s place with another man, Anthony Kern. Shea testified that she and Kern then had sex with Haynes, but Palmer wasn’t part of the equation. He stood back and watched and then told the group to leave.

On the stand, Shea said she left with Kern and asked Haynes if she wanted to go with them, but the young woman opted to stay behind.

That night, according to prosecutors, Palmer beat and strangled Haynes, then stuffed her body into a suitcase.

He allegedly wiped down his room to conceal the crime and sent text messages from the victim’s cellphone to family members to make it appear as if Haynes was still alive.

The next morning, Palmer called 911 to report that Haynes – whom he referred to as his girlfriend – was missing. Haynes' body was found in the suitcase the following day.

Following Palmer’s arrest, the suspect’s attorney said Palmer was innocent, saying his client was Haynes’ friend, not her killer.

Suspect Joshua M. Palmer was arrested on April 8 in connection with the grisly killing of Shauna Haynes, a 21-year-old woman found stuffed in a suitcase that was dumped near trash bins in downtown San Diego.

Preliminary Trial Witnesses & Details:

Disturbing new details emerged at Palmer's September 2016 preliminary hearing including Shea's testimony and that of others connected to the case.

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

A San Diego Police Department detective testified that Palmer's knuckles, on both hands, were red when he spoke with police after reporting Haynes missing.

Witnesses Describe Finding Suitcase (Warning: Graphic Details):

Residents who live and work at The Chadwick also testified in the preliminary hearing including the men who made the grisly discovery of the suitcase by the trash cans outside the residential hotel.

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.

Friends returned Sunday to where Shauna Haynes’ body was found just four days ago near trash cans in a downtown neighborhood. NBC 7’s Liz Bryant reports.

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.

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, 2016. 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 at the preliminary hearing 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.

As the smell of burning sage filled downtown San Diego, friends surrounded a picture of 21-year-old Shauna Haynes. NBC 7’s Liz Bryant reports.

Suspect Seemed "Shaken": Witness

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:

The preliminary hearing yielded 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 the sexual encounter with Shea and Kern.

"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 last September.

What's Next:

According to booking records, Palmer is set to appear in court again on May 5. His trial begins three months after that.

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