Pemberton murder trial starts March 23 – court

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines – The murder trial of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, accused of murdering Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude, has been set on March 23. 

Olongapo City RTC Branch 74 Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde announced the trial date on Friday, February 26, after the pre-trial conference which was attended by Pemberton.

The 19-year-old Pemberton's presence at the pre-trial conference, which included the stipulation of facts and the identification of witnesses, was unexpected as the court had granted his motion to let his lawyer represent him in court for the duration of the trial except when his presence is needed.

Laude family counsel Virgie Suarez told reporters after the pre-trial conference that they were surprised when they saw Pemberton,  but said it was good he was there.

"It's good that he attended and he heard all the stipulation of facts," Suarez said.

Plea bargaining was not discussed at the pre-trial conference as Laude’s family had already manifested their position not to agree or allow plea bargaining.

Pemberton was arraigned on February 23 but did not enter a plea, prompting the court to plead not guilty on his behalf.

Days before his arraignment, the Department of Justice junked the appeal of Pemberton to overturn the finding of probable cause against him for the crime of murder.

Pemberton had appealed the DOJ's January 27 dismissal of his plea to downgrade his crime from murder to homicide.

Both the prosecution and defense had agreed on a two-day continuous trial, set every Monday and Tuesday, from March 23 until September 22, 2015.

Pemberton is an active US marine who participated in the Philippines-US joint military exercises last year.

He was charged with killing Laude, whom he met  and allegedly murdered on  October 11, 2014, while he was on shore leave.

The two met at the Ambyanz Nightlife Bar along Magsaysay Drive in Olongapo Central District and later entered the nearby Celzone Lodge where hotel employees later found Laude dead in a toilet. – Rappler.com