US Marine accused of murdering transgender moved to Philippine military HQ

MANILA (AFP) - A United States Marine accused of murdering a transgender woman was moved to the Philippines' military headquarters on Wednesday, the authorities said, following huge public pressure for him to be moved off an American warship.

A US helicopter delivered Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton to Camp Aguinaldo in Manila and will be jointly guarded by American and local troops, military chief General Gregorio Catapang said.

"He will be detained in a 20-footer van that was installed inside the facility and he will be sleeping in a military-type cot bed with an air conditioning system," Gen Catapang told a news conference. He said the arrangement was mutually agreed by the two defence allies, whose military ties have been put under scrutiny by the murder.

"I think the US government is also sensitive to our feelings that this unfortunate incident happened, and they also want to show that they believe in our justice system," Gen Catapang said.

A US Embassy spokesman did not immediately return calls by AFP seeking comment.

Filipino police said Pemberton was the last person seen with the victim Jennifer Laude, a transgender 26-year-old also known as Jeffrey.

They found the victim in a hotel bathroom in the red-light district of the northern port city of Olongapo on Oct 12.

US Marines had taken part in joint military exercises and some US soldiers then headed to nearby Olongapo to wind down on the night of Ms Laude's death.

Under the terms of a Visiting Forces Agreement, the Philippines has jurisdiction over US soldiers wanted for crimes committed in the Philippines.

But the agreement also allows suspects to remain in US custody, and Pemberton had been detained by his superiors aboard the USS Peleliu, docked at a pier near Olongapo.

Ms Laude's family and lawyer, as well as groups critical of the US military presence in the Philippines, were outraged that Pemberton was not being detained by the local authorities.

Pemberton then failed to appear Tuesday before Olongapo state prosecutors investigating the murder, heightening concerns by the victim's family over whether Pemberton would face justice.

The prosecuting panel is to decide by mid-December whether there is "probable cause" to charge the American with murder, punishable under Philippine law by life imprisonment.

A US Marine was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2006 for raping a young Filipina he met in a bar on Olongapo's outskirts in 2005, but he was acquitted in 2009 when the woman recanted her testimony.