On December 1, 2015 a Philippine regional trial court convicted U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, 20, of homicide by first strangling Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, a transsexual, and then holding her head in a toilet bowl in the hotel they had checked into after meeting in a disco bar in October 2014, in Olongapo, a city northwest of Manila. The Olongapo city court sentenced Pemberton to 6-12 years for homicide, credited with time spent in detention. He was also ordered to pay the victim’s family 4.6 million pesos ($97,500) in damages.
Pemberton was one of thousands of American and Philippine military personnel who participated in joint exercises last year. He and a group of other Marines were on leave and met Laude and her friends at a bar in a city outside of Subic Bar, a former US Navy base. Pemberton and Laude left the bar and checked into a nearby hotel. About 30 minutes later Pemberton walked out leaving the hotel room’s door ajar. Pemberton testified in August that he had choked Laude during a fight that erupted when he discovered she was a transgender woman, but he claimed that she was still alive when he left her in a shower. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation due to drowning. The judge, however, said the prosecution’s argument of cruelty and treachery in the killing had insufficient basis for it to be deemed murder. The judge also granted two mitigating circumstances: 1) that Pemberton was drunk and his judgment was impaired and 2) that he was enraged when he discovered that Laude was a “dude” just after she had performed oral sex on him.
The victim’s mother was happy with the verdict but not with the sentence, because she had hoped he would be convicted of murder. In Olongapo city the crime is being denounced as a “hate crime" and activists are demanding "Justice for Jennifer.” The judge said she downgraded the murder charge to homicide because “cruelty” and “treachery” had not been proven. Harry Roque, the Laude family’s lawyer said that “if what he did isn’t cruelty, I don’t know what is.”
The killing a year ago sparked anger in the Philippines and calls for an end to America’s military presence there. Following the conviction demands were raised that Pemberton be required to serve out his sentence in a Philippine prison. The Visiting Forces Agreeemnt (VFA) provides that the confinement or detention by the Philippine authorities of US personnel shall be carried out in facilities agreed on by appropriate Philippines and US authorities.
The Olongapo Regional Trial Court gave the Visiting Forces Agreement Commission five days to produce before the court the agreement stating that Pemberton should be detained at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Custodial Center in case of conviction. US Marines, according to Harry Roque, surrounded Pemberton, keeping him away from the Philippine police.