Laude's fiancé: I cannot forgive Pemberton

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines – The family of the slain transgender woman here may be ready to forgive the US Marine suspected of the crime, but the victim's German fiancé isn't.

Speaking to media late Monday, October 20, at the wake of Jennifer Laude in this city, Marc Sueselbeck said he is not in the position to forgive Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.

"How can I forgive him? I'm not in the position to forgive him…I have more anger in my heart than probably most of the people here," Sueselbeck said.

He added: "The only person who is in that position is God and Jennifer. And forgiving means understanding, and I doubt that I would ever understand what he did."

Witnesses pointed to Pemberton as the last person seen with the 26-year-old Laude when the two checked in at Celzone Lodge last October 11 at around 10:45 pm. About an hour later, Laude was found with her head slumped on the toilet. Police later said she died by drowning.

Sueselbeck and Laude had been in a relationship for 3 years after first meeting online. They were set to get married in Thailand in 2015.

The German national arrived in Olongapo on Monday afternoon to pay his respects to Laude and attend her interment.

On Tuesday, October 21, the Olongapo City Prosecutor's Office will hold the first preliminary hearing on the case, following the murder complaint filed by Laude's family against Pemberton last week.

Prosecutors have issued a subpoena ordering Pemberton to appear before the office and answer the complaint against him. But the US Embassy cannot guarantee that Pemberton will personally appear at the hearing, saying that his appearance rests on the decision of the American soldier's lawyers.

A fair trial

Despite his feelings toward Pemberton, Sueselbeck said he still wants the US soldier to get a fair trial.

"Jennifer is for justice. Give [Pemberton] a fair trial under [Philippine] rules and that's it," he said.

He added: "I cannot forgive [Pemberton], but again we have to honor Jennifer's name and memory. I hope he gets what he deserves."

In calling for justice for Laude, Sueselbeck also stressed that Pemberton, as a foreigner, is a guest in the Philippines and should have to adapt to the country's culture and rules. 

"This is your country and she is your citizen. It's your law and he [Pemberton] is a guest here so he has to adapt to your country."

"If he doesn't, then he has to face the consequences from your side and not the sweet talking he probably gets from the US," he added.

He also expressed hope that the Philippine government will be strong enough to "claim [its] own rights."

The Philippines has said that it wants to get custody over Pemberton, who is currently held on board the USS Peleliu.

Under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) signed between the US and the Philippines, the US has custody over its erring officers.

Activists and the Laude family have demanded that the government take custody of Pemberton.

Laude's sister Marilou said she wants Pemberton to appear at the hearing on Tuesday to reassure the family that he is still in the Philippines to face the complaint against him.

Asked if he wanted to meet Pemberton, Sueselbeck said he only has one question for the 19-year-old soldier.

"I just want him to give me an honest answer why he did it. That's the only question I have."

'A moral question between us'

Since news broke of Laude's killing, there have been speculations about the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Witness Mark Clarence Gelviro, known as Barbie, had told police Pemberton had approached them at a nearby disco bar before proceeding to the lodge to check in.

In earlier interviews, Sueselbeck denied that his fiancée had been a prostitute. A police report, however, said that Laude was a victim of a "crime of hatred" when the suspect discovered her true gender after he had engaged Laude for "sex services."

Asked if his opinion of Laude changed since the incident, Sueselbeck said that it was a moral question that was not for the public to decide.

"[It] is a moral moral question which would have to be discussed between me and her and her family and her, but it's not for the public. The moral part has nothing to do with the case. There could be nothing to imagine whatever happened that allows or makes understandable the act that happened," he said.

He appealed to the public not to judge Laude and "fall to the same prejudices and discrimination" when at this point in the probe, nothing of the motive has been established yet, Sueselbeck said. – Rappler.com