MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – A local trial court granted on Tuesday, December 23, the motion of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton to suspend his murder trial pending the resolution of a petition for review he filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking the dismissal of the case against him.
The suspension will last 60 days. Lawyer Harry Roque, counsel of the family of slain Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude, said they will ask the court to reconsider its ruling.
The Olongapo court also junked the family's motion to move Pemberton to a jail in Olongapo City and to allow media to cover his murder trial.
"We will move for reconsideration on all 3 orders. We can't afford 60 days of suspension since we only have one year [to complete trial]," Roque told Rappler.
Government prosecutors representing Laude's family also earlier asked Olongapo Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 74 Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde to inhibit from the case on the ground that she is a former classmate of Pemberton's counsel Rowena Garcia-Flores.
While the petition filed with the justice department is an option for the accused, Philippine prosecutors argued that this would delay proceedings.
"A party can always go up to the Secretary of Justice to review the resolution of a lower prosecution office," an ABS-CBN news report quoted Olongapo City Prosecutor Emilie Fe delos Santos as saying.
Pemberton filed back-to-back motions in response to the murder case filed by government prosecutors against him with the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court on December 15. First, he filed before the local court a motion to suspend his murder trial. Next, he filed before the Department of Justice a motion to dismiss the murder charge.
Media was barred from entering the Olongapo court when Pemberton appeared on December 19 for a routine booking procedure. His scheduled arraignment did not push through because of his motion to suspend his trial.
In the petition filed with DOJ, Pemberton's lawyer said that prosecutors did not present enough evidence to charge him with the killing of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude.
The body of Laude, 26, was found at a cheap hotel in the red light district of the northern port of Olongapo in October after she checked in with Pemberton, police in that city said.
Pemberton's lawyers said evidence linking him to the killing was "based on nothing but conjectures and speculations."
"There was no evidence presented as to the details of the purported assault during the preliminary investigation other than the surmises and conjectures of the supposed witnesses and the baseless conclusions of the (Olongapo) police," the petition argued.
The high-profile case has caused anti-US sentiment in the Philippines and strained relations between the longtime allies, which both sought custody of the suspect.
The US government has refused to hand over custody to Philippine authorities even after prosecutors charged Pemberton with murder.
He is currently under US military guard at a Philippine military base in Manila. – with reports from Agence France-Presse