Murder Charge Is Recommended for US Marine in Death of Transgender Filipino – New York Times

December 15, 2014

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines — Philippine prosecutors on Monday recommended that a United States Marine be charged with murder in connection with the grisly death of a Filipino transgender woman.

The Philippines does not have a jury system so the case will be turned over to a judge who will decide the case against the Marine, Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, 19, in the death of Jennifer Laude, 26. Private Pemberton faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of murder, prosecutors said on Monday.

Private Pemberton was arrested in October while in the Philippines for United States military exercises. He met Ms. Laude in an Olongapo City nightclub and then accompanied her to a nearby hotel, according to a preliminary investigation that relied in part on closed-circuit television footage. Ms. Laude was later found dead on the hotel room’s toilet; her neck was broken.

Prosecutors said on Monday that they had recommended murder charges, rather than the lesser offense of homicide, because of aggravating circumstances, including the violent nature of Ms. Laude’s death.

“There was aggravated treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty,” said Emiline Delos Santos, the chief prosecutor of Olongapo City, about 50 miles outside Manila. “Because you have those three aggravating, qualifying circumstances, it is murder.”

“You can see the kind of cruelty she endured, the injuries she sustained,” Mrs. Delos Santos added. “We believe we have a strong case.”

Under a joint custody agreement, Private Pemberton is being detained in a modified shipping container on a military base in Manila, where he is guarded by sentries from both countries.

Ms. Laude’s attorney, Harry Roque, has called for Private Pemberton to be placed in a regular jail cell in the Philippines, but an agreement between the two countries allows for the United States to retain some control over the detention arrangements until the case is decided.

“This is the first step to justice,” Mr. Roque said after the hearing on Monday. “This is not an ordinary case. It is under the visiting forces agreement. The question is, where will Pemberton be detained? Will he be handcuffed and brought to face the court?”

Private Pemberton has not put forward a statement regarding the case and has not appeared at any of the preliminary hearings.

The case comes at a particularly sensitive time for military relations between the United States and the Philippines. The two countries in April signed a military agreement that would allow the United States to build military facilities in the Philippines and station ships, planes and equipment in the country.

The United States closed its last military base in the Philippines in 1992 but has continued to stage war games and joint exercises with the Philippines. The new agreement is part of a United States pivot toward greater engagement with Asia and is welcomed by the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III as a deterrent to China, which has overlapping territorial claims with the Philippines in the South China Sea.

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