Appeal court upholds conviction of US Marine over killing of transgender Filipino

Activists in Manila with posters of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was found guilty of homicide on April 10 in the killing of Filipino transgender person Jeffrey Laude.
Activists in Manila with posters of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was found guilty of homicide on April 10 in the killing of Filipino transgender person Jeffrey Laude.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - The Philippine Court of Appeals affirmed on Monday (April 10) a lower court's ruling sentencing an American soldier to six to 12 years in jail for the brutal killing of a Filipino transgender in 2014.

In its decision, the appellate court also ordered Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, 21, to pay 4. 5 million pesos (S$127,300) in indemnity to the family of Mr Jeffrey Laude, 26. It denied an appeal filed by Pemberton's lawyers "for lack of merit".

In a ruling issued in December 2015, a court in Olongapo City found Pemberton guilty of homicide for killing, in a drunken rage, Mr Laude, who also went by the name "Jennifer". The killing took place inside a motel near a former US naval base in Subic Bay, 79km north of the capital Manila.

Court records showed that on Oct 12, 2014, Pemberton, while off duty after participating in a joint military exercise off Subic, met Mr Laude, dressed as a school girl, inside a bar at Olongapo's red-light district. They later agreed to head to a nearby motel.

As they were having sex, the Marine turned violent when he realised Mr Laude had male genitals.

In his testimony, Pemberton admitted arm-locking Mr Laude's head. He then dragged the victim, who had blacked out, to a toilet to revive him. His lawyers argued that Mr Laude was still breathing when Pemberton left the scene. They suggested, based on a third strand of DNA found on Mr Laude's neck, that someone else who was after money might have killed Mr Laude.

The judge said, however, that the defence failed to substantiate this theory.

But the charge of murder was downgraded to homicide, as the judge noted that Pemberton acted out of "passion and obfuscation", and that Mr Laude deliberately hid his true gender.

The case had struck a nerve in the Philippines, which has given 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 the custody of US servicemen accused of crimes had turned into jurisdictional disputes that sparked heated debates on sovereignty.

The judge had ordered Pemberton jailed at the national penitentiary, but the justice ministry quickly issued an order allowing his continued detention inside an air-conditioned container van at the Philippine military's main base in Manila.