US Marine asks Philippine justice ministry to dismiss transgender murder case

This handout photo released by Olongapo City Police Public Information Office taken on Dec 19, 2014, shows Private First Class Joseph Pemberton at the Olongapo police station in Olongapo, north of Manila. -- PHOTO: AFP
This handout photo released by Olongapo City Police Public Information Office taken on Dec 19, 2014, shows Private First Class Joseph Pemberton at the Olongapo police station in Olongapo, north of Manila. -- PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - A US Marine facing trial for the murder of a Filipina transgender woman urged the Philippine Department of Justice on Monday to dismiss the case against him.

In a petition filed with the department, the lawyer for Private First Class Joseph Pemberton argued that prosecutors did not present enough evidence to charge him with the killing of Jennifer Laude.

The body of Laude 26, also known as Jeffrey, was found at a cheap hotel in the red light district of the northern port of Olongapo in October after she checked in with Pemberton, police in that city said.

But the petition argued that the evidence linking Pemberton to the killing was "based on nothing but conjectures and speculations".

"There was no evidence presented as to the details of the purported assault during the preliminary investigation other than the surmises and conjectures of the supposed witnesses and the baseless conclusions of the (Olongapo) police," the petition argued.

The murder case against Pemberton was filed with an Olongapo court which issued a formal arrest warrant for him last week.

However a petition to the justice department is also an option for the accused in such criminal cases.

Pemberton also wanted court hearings suspended pending a decision on his petition.

But Philippine prosecutors argued that this would delay proceedings, which under a US-Philippine agreement must be completed in a year.

In Olongapo a lawyer for the Laude family, Harry Roque, said Pemberton's petition was "not a basis for suspension, especially for cases like this".

The high-profile case has inflamed anti-US sentiment in the Philippines and strains in relations between the longtime allies, which both sought custody of the suspect.

The US government has refused to hand over custody to Philippine authorities even after prosecutors charged Pemberton with murder.

He is currently under US military guard at a Philippine military base in Manila.