Downes was the architect for Tower 23 Hotel in Pacific Beach, Hotel La Jolla’s guest rooms, the Thin bar downtown, Hard Rock Hotel San Diego and others, according to the Graham Downes Architecture website. He is also credited with the overhaul of Tom Ham’s Lighthouse on Harbor Island and Bali Hai on Shelter Island, among many other places downtown.
Higinio Soriano Salgado, 31, pleaded not guilty following a preliminary hearing conducted by San Diego Superior Court Judge John Einhorn on July 31. A Sept. 18 trial date was set. Salgado remains in custody on $3 million bail.
“There is probable cause, Mr. Salgado, that a murder was committed and you will be held to answer,” said Einhorn.
Witnesses at the party testified that almost everyone was drinking heavily, including Salgado and Downes, 56. A neighbor, Jeff Kunitz, testified he called 9-1-1 at 1:10 a.m. after hearing angry voices and seeing two men fighting on the sidewalk on W. Juniper Street.
A deputy medical examiner, Dr. Steven Campman, testified he saw between 17 and 21 injuries to the head and neck of Downes during the autopsy. There were bruises consistent with strangulation, fracture of the jawbone and blunt force trauma, he said.
Attorney Jamahl Kersey argued the crime was not murder and said it was an employee “party environment” where “everybody is drinking.” Kersey said there was no malice or disregard for human life and unsuccessfully argued the charge be dropped.
“Seventeen to 21 injuries. Blunt force trauma. That’s murder,” said Deputy District Attorney Amy Maund. “He was thinking about it, stewing about it. We believe this man committed murder.”
Witnesses said Salgado was overheard arguing with Downes about not hiring a former employee with whom Salgado had a disagreement. District Attorney investigator Scott Christie testified the former employee had advised Downes to fire Salgado.
Salgado worked for Downes as manager of rental property. Witnesses said Salgado was afraid the ex-employee would take Salgado’s job from him if Downes hired him back.
Police officer Eric Jones testified he arrived at 1:50 a.m. and found both Salgado and Downes lying face down on the sidewalk with Salgado’s arm over the architect.
Jones said Salgado was intoxicated and arrested him before an ambulance and took Downes to a hospital. He died three days later without regaining consciousness. His design firm was started in 1994 and closed several months after his death.