MANILA, Philippines – The Olongapo City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 74 on Tuesday, December 16, issued a warrant of arrest for the US soldier accused of killing Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude.
US Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton is facing a murder charge for the killing of Laude.
Witnesses said the two met at a disco bar in Olongapo City on October 11. Laude was later found dead in the bathroom of a motel room, with her head slumped against the toilet.
Prosecutors earlier found probable cause to indict Pemberton, citing “aggravating and qualifying circumstances” that point to murder.
The Laude family’s lawyer Harry Roque called the decision a “welcome development” and added that he expects Pemberton to be placed inside a local jail under the jurisdiction of the Olongapo RTC.
The US soldier is currently detained at the Philippine military headquarters but remains under US custody, based on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the US.
The VFA states that custody will remain with the US until “the completion of the judicial proceedings.” But it also provides that the Philippines may request for custody in “extraordinary cases.”
In a statement following the issuance of the arrest warrant, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it will now seek custody over the American serviceman.
“We welcome the progress made so far on the case, and as we stated earlier, we will now formally seek custody over the accused PFC Joseph Scott Pemberton.”
“In accordance with the VFA, we look forward to the full cooperation of the US government in ensuring that justice is secured for Jeffrey ‘Jennifer’ Laude,” the DFA said.
Asked if Pemberton would be transferred to a regular jail, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Monday said, “The United States and the Philippines will have to talk about where to detain the US serviceman.”
Basis for murder
In its 23-page resolution, the Olongapo City prosecution panel chaired by Emilie Fe de los Santos cited 3 “aggravating and qualifying circumstances” that formed the basis for the murder case against Pemberton: aggravated treachery, abuse of superior strength, and cruelty.
The autopsy report showed that Laude died from drowning due to asphyxia. She also had various injuries on her body.
Prosecutors said Laude had been choked from behind, and was “deprived of the opportunity to defend herself.”
“What is decisive is that the execution of the attack, without the slightest provocation from a victim such as Jennifer who is unarmed, made it impossible for her to defend herself or retaliate…A sudden attack against an unarmed victim constitutes treachery,” prosecutors said.
They added that the element of cruelty was undeniable as Pemberton “made sure [Laude] suffered to her death.”
“He did not stop at badly beating her up and choking her, he made sure she suffered to her death. He deliberately and repeatedly plunged her head down the toilet until she breathe[d] her last,” they said.
Prosecutors also raised the possibility that Pemberton had gotten angry when he discovered that Laude “fooled him into believing she is a woman.”
But they added: “Does he really need to drag her all the way to the bathroom and dunk her head in the toilet? Undeniably, respondent made sure that Jennifer was dead.”
In a press conference on Monday, De los Santos said the prosecution panel believes it has a strong case against the accused based on the evidence presented and gathered.
No special treatment
While the Laude camp welcomed the prosecutors’ decision, the family’s counsel also urged authorities to immediately transfer Pemberton to a regular facility.
“There is already a criminal case filed. The accused should be submitted to the custody of the court. They cannot invoke VFA anymore since it clearly states that murder case is an extraordinary circumstance that should cause the transfer of custody to Philippine authorities,” Roque said.
He added: “There should be no special treatment. If they were able to do it with the senators, who are detained in a police camp without air-conditioned rooms, there is no reason why there should be a special detention facility for Pemberton.”
The Laude case has led to renewed calls to abrogate the VFA, with critics slamming the agreement for being skewed in favor of the US. – Rappler.com
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