Teen guilty of murdering nearby driver

Joseph Palmer,17, was declared guilty by an eight-person jury on Friday. He was accused of murder after shooting at a truck in Salt Lake City four times, one of which fatally struck the driver. The jury ruled that Palmer’s actions did not constitute self-defense.

Despite being only 15 years old at the time of the incident, Palmer was prosecuted as an adult. He was found guilty on all charges.

The incident took place on July 6, 2021, when Palmer and a friend were walking and pushing a bike. A disagreement sparked with Fernando Amaya-Higareda, the 23-year-old driver of a nearby truck.

As Amaya-Higareda began to drive away, Palmer kicked his truck. He then pulled a gun from his backpack and fired four shots, hitting the driver’s side door.

The prosecutor, Salt Lake Deputy District Attorney Byron Burmester, stated in his closing arguments that there was no dispute that Palmer fired the weapon, and it was his bullet that hit Amaya-Higareda in the eye, causing immediate death.

Burmester also noted that there was no evidence to suggest that Amaya-Higareda provoked the emotional response that led to the shooting.

Burmester pointed out that the victim was wearing his seatbelt and was not exiting his vehicle, presenting no threat to Palmer. He emphasized that a deadly shooting without justification is murder.

The prosecutor also cited a witness who perceived the encounter as friendly until Palmer kicked the truck and reached for his gun. It was stated that Palmer and his friend fled the scene, changed clothes, and hid the weapon to evade the police.

Palmer’s defense attorney, Rudy Bautista, insisted the shooting was in self-defense. Bautista referenced text messages revealing that Palmer had previously discussed getting a gun for protection with his aunt. He cited a recent drive-by shooting incident as the reason for Palmer’s fear.

Bautista suggested that the driver’s behavior, attire, and the presence of alcohol and cocaine in his system could have led Palmer to feel threatened. He argued that Palmer had a right to use deadly force until the threat was removed.

Palmer’s sentencing is set for August 7th.