Teen certified to stand trial as adult in 2021 Kearns killing

A boy who was 15 when police say he shot and killed a 23-year-old Kearns man in a truck in 2021 has been certified to stand trial on a charge of murder in 3rd District Court.

A boy who was 15 when police say he shot and killed a 23-year-old Kearns man in a truck in 2021 has been certified to stand trial on a charge of murder in 3rd District Court. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

KEARNS — A boy who was 15 when he allegedly shot and killed a Kearns man in his truck has been certified to stand trial as an adult.

Joseph Palmer, 16, of West Jordan, was charged this week in 3rd District Court with murder, a first-degree felony; obstructing justice, a second-degree felony; three counts of discharge of a firearm, a third-degree felony; possession of a gun by a minor, and drug possession, both class B misdemeanors.

As of Friday, a second boy who police say was with Palmer, who was 16 at the time of the incident, had not been certified to stand trial as an adult despite being named in charging documents for Palmer. KSL.com has chosen not to name the second boy at this time.

On July 6, 2021, police say Fernando Amaya-Higareda, 23, was in a truck in the area of 5600 South and 5300 West about 8:20 p.m. when he pulled over next to two boys, ages 15 and 16, who were pushing a bicycle down the sidewalk.

A witness heard the boys and Amaya-Higareda exchange words such as, "Wassup?" and "something about having or wanting any 'beef,'" according to charging documents.

Palmer kicked the truck as Amaya-Higareda started to drive away. He then pulled a gun out of the backpack he was carrying and fired about four rounds at the truck, the charges state.

The truck rolled down Impressions Drive, hit a metal box and ended up in a grassy area. The first arriving officer to the scene "observed that the glass had been shot out of the rear of the truck and observed what appeared to be several bullet holes in the driver's side of the truck bed," according to the charges. Amaya-Higareda was found deceased inside the vehicle. An autopsy determined he died from a gunshot wound to his head.

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Unified police surrounded the area and were able to find both boys with help from witnesses. Palmer was spotted by a homeowner hiding behind the homeowner's truck. An officer found Palmer and detained him and then found a gun wrapped in either a shirt or towel hidden under the front bumper, the charges state.

"During a portion of his interview, Palmer was asked, 'So you shot the guy in the white truck?' Palmer responded, 'I guess so,' before once again denying involvement," the charges state.

Palmer was initially charged in 3rd District Juvenile Court with the same charges he faces now.

According to juvenile court records, he was also charged two months prior to the shooting with aggravated assault and accused of choking a woman and punching her in the face.

Before that, in October 2020, when Palmer was 14, he led Unified police on a chase in the Kearns area, according to court documents. After the teen got out of his car and ran, he allegedly dropped a handgun that had been reported as stolen a month earlier in Morgan County. Palmer was charged for that incident with a number of crimes, including failing to stop for police, reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the KSL.com team in 2021 after many years of reporting for the Deseret News

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