Court affirms guilty verdict on US Marine in Jennifer Laude death

MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed a trial court ruling that declared US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton guilty of homicide for the death of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, a Filipina transgender, 3 years ago.

The CA also upheld the award of loss of earning capacity to the heirs of Laude in the amount of P4.32 million as well as exemplary damages of P30,000. It also increased the civil indemnity and moral damages awarded to Laude’s heirs from P50,000 to P75,000.

In a 48-page decision penned by Associate Justice Marlenez Gonzales-Sison and released on Monday, April 10, the CA’s Special Sixteenth Division rejected Pemberton’s claim of self-defense in killing Laude inside the Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City on October 11, 2014.

Laude's death at the time reignited anti-American sentiment in the Philippines and renewed concerns over the extent of an agreement that allows US military forces to make regular visits to the country.

Pemberton met the transgender Laude in October 2014 in a bar, after the marine took part in a joint PH-US military exercise.

During the trial, the court heard that Pemberton and Laude agreed to have sex after meeting in Olongapo's red light district, but that the drunken marine turned violent when he discovered Laude still had male genitals.

He acted out of "passion and obfuscation," the court said, adding that "in the heat of passion, he arm-locked the deceased, and dunked his (her) head in the toilet".

In December 2015, the Regional Trial Court of Olongapo City found Pemberton "guilty beyond reasonable doubt" of homicide in the death of Laude, sentencing him to a maximum of 10 years in jail.

Pemberton appealed the verdict a month later, arguing that he acted in self-defense and that he voluntarily surrendered.

Pemberton's clear intent

But the CA said there’s no physical evidence to suggest Pemberton was hurt by Laude or that he was in grave danger before the transgender's death.

“As proven by the prosecution, Pemberton did not leave Laude merely unconscious, but ensured his death by submerging his head inside the toilet bowl. Clearly, Pemberton intended the natural consequence of his wrongful act,” the CA said.

“Indeed, a plea of self-defense cannot be justifiably appreciated where it is not only uncorroborated by independent and competent evidence, but also extremely doubtful by itself. Self-defense, like alibi, is a defense which can easily be concocted as it is in this case,” it added.

The court also did not give weight to Pemberton’s plea that his voluntary surrender should have mitigated his guilt.

The Marine corporal remains detained in a US-owned air-conditioned van in Camp Aguinaldo, the general headquarters of the Philippine military. 

The CA agreed with the trial court that Pemberton's detention at Camp Aguinaldo should be credited to his jail time.

“Consequently, the argument that Pemberton was not under local custody during the trial has no leg to stand on. Further, Pemberton is entitled to be credited with the full time of his preventive imprisonment,” the CA ruled.

Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Ramon Cruz and Henri Jean Paul Inting. – Rappler.com