US Marine skips hearing on Olongapo slay
OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – The US Marine suspected of killing transgender Filipino Jennifer Laude was a no-show at the start of the preliminary hearing on the murder case on Tuesday, October 21.
US Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton failed to appear at the preliminary hearing at the Olongapo Hall of Justice, where family members of Laude were accompanied by their lawyer, Harry Roque, as well as Laude's German fiancé, Marc Sueselbeck.
Pemberton was represented by his lawyers, led by Rowena Flores, who said the subpoena served on their client did not require his personal appearance at the preliminary hearing.
Olongapo City Prosecutor Emilie Fe Delos Santos, however, told the US Marine's legal counsel that Pemberton should attend the next preliminary investigation on October 27.
Delos Santos said Pemberton's attendance in the probe will "give a very good example on the willingness on the part of the United States to comply with the [Visiting Forces Agreement]."
She told Flores: "On the 27th, Mr Pemberton should be with you…. I'm directing you to make him appear before us."
Flores told Delos Santos that she will confer with Pemberton, but the city prosecutor said: "I don't take any more arguments…. It is his right to be informed. But you are the one knowledgeable in Philippine law. So do not tell me that you don't exert any influence by explaining to him what would be the best thing to do. From now on, I don't want to listen to 'I'm going to ask him.' No. You have to compel him."
Asked by Flores what the prosecutor's office would do if Pemberton refuses to appear, Delos Santos said: "You will get an order from me later on. His non-appearance will get an order from this office. That's mere speculation. As you said you will confer with him. What if he wants to appear?"
During the probe, Delos Santos emphasized that the prosecutors will not touch on the issue of custody outlined in the VFA. Instead, the panel will focus on the criminal aspects of the case.
The subpoena issued last week by the prosecutor's office provided Pemberton 10 days to study the murder complaint lodged by Laude's family against him and to submit his counter-affidavit.
Flores said her client would avail of the 10 day period, but added that they may opt not to submit a counter-affidavit.
The preliminary investigation will proceed regardless if Pemberton submits his counter-affidavit.
'Disadvantageous' for Pemberton
In a press briefing, Delos Santos affirmed that Pemberton can waive his right to avail of the preliminary investigation to submit his counter-affidavit.
She also acknowledged that this may be a strategic move on the part of the defense.
"That's tantamount to a waiver on his part to present his evidence in the preliminary investigation. Maybe their strategy is, we will just present him in court. So they are now prepared for his defense in court," Delos Santos said.
But she said this can also be "disadvantageous" for Pemberton because he cannot refute the evidence presented by the complainants during the preliminary investigation.
"That's why we have to conduct additional investigation just to make sure that what the witnesses for the complainants are telling us by way of their affidavits are all true. We will know for sure if it's true or if there are lapses, because their testimonies will be very important in the event that Pemberton will not file a counter affidavit."
Probe possibly 'easier'
The city prosecutor is tasked to determine if there's prima facie evidence to file murder charges against Pemberton in court.
Following the hearings, the prosecutor can either bring criminal charges or drop the case.
Delos Santos said that while the required period for the preliminary investigation is 60 days, this can be shortened or extended, depending on factors like the available evidence.
"The required period is 60 days, but subject to the agreement of parties. We could expedite, we can shorten, we can also extend. We have to be reasonable. If the available evidence needed by the prosecution is not yet in, like the forensics, we don't have to make haste," she said.
On November 5, prosecutors will conduct an ocular inspection in Ambyanz Disco Bar and Celzone Lodge – the two places where Laude and witness Mark Clarence Gelviro (known as Barbie) met the suspect on the night of October 11.
Laude was found dead hours later in the bathroom of Celzone Lodge.
Delos Santos said the ocular will allow prosecutors to connect the witnesses' statements with actual evidence.
She also said that if Pemberton does not submit a counter-affidavit, the preliminary probe will be made easier.
"There will be nothing to refute. We will just validate and assess the evidence," she said. – Rappler.com