OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines (AFP) – A Philippine court on Tuesday (Dec 1) convicted a United States Marine of killing a Filipina transgender woman in a red light district, in a case that reignited long-simmering anti-American sentiment in the country.
Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton was convicted of homicide for the killing of Jennifer Laude in a motel in Oct 2014, after they met in a bar following joint US-Philippine military exercises near the city of Olongapo.
Judge Roline Jinez Jabalde sentenced Pemberton to six to 12 years in jail – after the charge was reduced from murder which carries a heavier penalty – citing mitigating circumstances, including the fact that Laude had not revealed her gender identity.
The court heard that Pemberton and Laude agreed to have sex after meeting, but that the drunken Marine turned violent when he discovered Laude still had male genitals.
He acted out of “passion and obfuscation”, the court said, adding that “in the heat of passion, he arm-locked the deceased, and dunked his (her) head in the toilet”.
“The killing of Laude amounted only to homicide” and did not have the legal elements of murder, the court ruled.
A lawyer for the Laude family, Harry Roque, expressed outrage that the sentence was reduced on those grounds.
“We are very angry that the court considered these mitigating circumstances,” he said, pounding a table while addressing journalists.
Julita Laude, mother of the victim, said she was thankful for the conviction but added: “I am not content with the six-12 year imprisonment.”
“The important thing is he will be jailed. My daughter did not die in vain,” she added.
Another family lawyer, Virgie Suarez, said Pemberton would serve at least six years and authorities would have the option of holding him longer, depending on his behaviour.
Lawyers at the court in Olongapo City, 79km northwest of Manila, said a black-suited Pemberton showed no reaction when the verdict was read.
Burly American guards shielded him from cameras as they escorted Pemberton to an upper floor, away from journalists.
The judge ruled that the American would be held temporarily at the national penitentiary until the two countries decide where he should serve his sentence.
However shortly afterwards, the Justice Department issued a statement saying Pemberton would be held at the Philippine military headquarters in Manila until a court decides with finality on his appeal to the decision.
Filipino police were seen escorting Pemberton away with the department saying the corrections bureau would oversee his detention.
“It is possible that Pemberton may be transferred to another detention facility at some point, as provided under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” the Justice Department statement said.
Police had barricaded the narrow street in front of the court, keeping out protesters who wanted to picket the event.
Pemberton’s homicide conviction is the first under a VFA between the two countries signed in 1998, covering the legal liability of US troops taking part in military operations in the Philippines.
Leftist activists have used the Pemberton case to attack the VFA and the close defence ties between the United States and its former colony.
Protesters have demanded that the American should not receive any special treatment and should be held in an ordinary jail.