Pemberton found guilty of homicide for Laude slay
OLONGAPO CITY, Zambales — The Olongapo City court on Tuesday found US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton guilty of homicide for the October 2014 death of Filipino transgender Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude.
Pemberton was sentenced to 6-12 years imprisonment and ordered to pay the Laude family at least P4.5 million for various damages.
"All circumstances form a chain that leads to reasonable conclusion that Pemberton is responsible for the killing of Laude," Judge Roline Jinez Jabalde of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74 said in her decision as read by Clerk of Court Gerry Gruspe.
Laude was found dead, with his head inside a toilet bowl, in the bathroom of a Celzone Lodge room in Olongapo City on October 11, 2014.
The victim, then 26 years old, was last seen with Pemberton entering the room with another person after drinking at a nearby bar where they met. The other person, Laude's friend Mark Clarence "Barbie" Gelviro, later left the two alone.
The court in its decison said Pemberton himself admitted to one of his buddies that he could have killed a "he-she."
He was also the last peson who was seen with Laude before the transgender woman was found dead.
Homicide, not murder
The court, however, said the killing was a case of homicide, not murder.
It said that there was no treachery or pre-meditation in the case and that there was no abuse of superior strength.
"Cruelty could not be attendant when the crime was committed by the accused," the court said.
"Consequently due to the failure of the prosecution to establish any of the qualifying circumstances alleged in the information the killing of Laude amounte only to homicide," it added.
The court also found mitigating circusmtances that led it to rule that the killing was a homicide.
The court said Laude tried to heep his true gender from Pemberton.
It added that Pemberton was also drunk and was not in the right frame of mind when he committed the crime.
"Since two mitigating circumstances and no aggravating circumstance have been found to have attended the commission of the offense, the penalty shall be lowered by one degree," the court said.
The court initially ordered his temporary detention at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, saying he is considered as a national prisoner, and that it finds the agreement of the US and Philippine governments regarding the detention facility for US servicemen convicted in the Philippines "ambiguous."
"Pending clarification of the agreement, accused Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton is hereby temporarily committed to the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City," the court said.
It later ordered that Pemberton be detained at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Custodial Center after the convict's camp filed for a motion for clarification.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, citing the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the US, said that the two countries have agreed that Pemberton be detained at the military facility instead of at the national penitentiary.
A member of US forces engaged in joint military exercises in the Philippines at the time of the crime, Pemberton is covered by the VFA.
The prosecution has sought for a murder conviction and P100 million in exemplary damages — an amount the court said was "excessive, outrageous and has no basis at all."
Lawyer Harry Roque, at a press briefing after the promulgation, said they could no longer appeal the case as doing so would constitute double jeopardy.
Roque, who described their victory as "bittersweet" after it was decided to homicide, said Pemberton's year-long detention prior to his conviction will be counted in his sentence.
The decision, which was read for over three hours with two short breaks, marked the culmination of nearly nine months of marathon trial that started in March 2015.
Under the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the US, the local courts have one year to complete judicial proceedings against a US soldier accused of a crime in the Philippines. After that period, he/she shall be relieved of any obligation.
During the trial, Pemberton, 19, admitted choking and dragging Laude to the bathroom during a fight, but said the victim was still breathing when he left the room. He said he did not know at first that Laude, who offered him sex for a fee, was not biologically female.
Pemberton later admitted to his superiors and colleagues that he may have killed a "he-she."
In her decision, Jabalde said Pemberton's admission is admissible as evidence.
Following the incident, Pemberton was detained first on the US Navy ship where he was assigned as a participant in regular US-Philippine military exercises. He was then moved to a US facility inside Camp Aguinaldo.
The Olongapo City Prosecutor's Office, in a resolution dated December 15, 2014, found probable cause to charge him with murder. However, court proceedings were suspended for two months, after Pemberton asked the DOJ to dismiss the murder charge.
The DOJ denied the motion on January 27, 2015, then affirmed its decision in another resolution on February 20.
The court entered a not guilty plea for Pemberton after he refused to enter any in connection with the killing.
The trial officially began on March 16. Among those who took the stand were Fortun, Gelviro, Pemberton's fellow officers, and his mother Lisa, who described him as a compassionate and God-fearing person.
The case has stirred debate over the presence of American soldiers on Philippine soil after Filipino senators voted two decades ago to kick out US bases in the country because of social issues, such as crimes committed by servicemen. —KBK/NB/JST, GMA News