US soldier gets jail for killing transgender person

Activists in Manila with posters of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was found guilty of homicide yesterday in the killing of Filipino transgender person Jeffrey Laude last year.
Activists in Manila with posters of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was found guilty of homicide yesterday in the killing of Filipino transgender person Jeffrey Laude last year.PHOTO: REUTERS

Marine sentenced to 6-12 years in Philippine case that has sparked heated debate

A Philippine court yesterday sentenced an American soldier to six to 12 years in jail for the death last year of a Filipino transgender person.

In a decision that took more than three hours to read, the judge found Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton guilty of homicide in the killing of Mr Jeffrey Laude, 26, during a drunken rage at a motel in Olongapo city, near the former US naval base in Subic Bay, 79km north of the capital Manila.

Pemberton, 20, was also ordered to pay more than 4.5 million pesos (S$134,500) to Mr Laude's family.

The case has struck a nerve in the Philippines, which only recently gave US troops wider and longer access to its military bases to counter China's increasing military activity in the region.

In past years, questions over custody of US servicemen accused of crimes had turned into jurisdictional disputes that sparked heated debates over sovereignty.

Court records show that on Oct 11 last year, Pemberton, while off duty after participating in a joint military exercise in Subic Bay, met Mr Laude, who also went by the name "Jennifer", at a bar in Olongapo's red-light district.

The drunken Marine turned violent when he realised Mr Laude, who was dressed as a schoolgirl, was male.

Though he had been charged with murder, Pemberton was convicted of homicide, as the judge noted that he acted out of "passion and obfuscation", and that Mr Laude deliberately hid his true gender.

A central issue now is where Pemberton will be detained. The judge ordered Pemberton jailed at the national penitentiary, but the justice ministry quickly issued an order allowing his continued detention in an air-conditioned container van at the Philippine military's main base in Manila.

The case is again casting a harsh light on two key defence pacts between close allies the Philippines and the United States.

It is testing provisions of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, which gives the Philippines jurisdiction over criminal cases involving US troops but allows the US to retain custody.

The case is also providing fodder for nationalists who are asking the Supreme Court to scrap a new 10- year defence pact between Manila and Washington which would help build up US presence in the region.

Meanwhile, •the Philippines on Monday wrapped up a week of arguments in its case against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.

Manila has asked the court to reject Beijing's territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea and rule that the Philippines has the right to areas within 200 nautical miles of its coastline under the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Philippines' chief counsel Paul Reichler said a ruling was expected by mid-2016.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2015, with the headline 'US soldier gets jail for killing transgender person'. Print Edition | Subscribe