Death of Jennifer Laude
Facebook photo of Jennifer Laude
|Date||October 11, 2014|
|Cause||Asphyxiation by drowning|
|Convicted||Joseph Scott Pemberton|
|Convictions||6-10 years in prison|
Reduced from 6-12 years in prison
The death of Jennifer Laude occurred on October 11, 2014 in Olongapo, Philippines, when the 26-year-old Filipina trans woman was killed by 19-year-old Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, who had been unaware that Laude was transgender.
This is the second reported criminal case involving a United States Marine in the Philippines under the existing Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement and the first since the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. The murder spawned protests in the Philippines by transgender rights and other activists.
Laude, a trans woman, met Pemberton, a United States Marine from New Bedford, Massachusetts, at the Ambyanz disco bar in Olongapo on the evening of October 11, 2014. According to police and witnesses, they subsequently went to Celzone Lodge, a nearby motel. Thirty minutes after checking in, Pemberton left the motel, leaving the door to the room ajar. Staff found Laude's naked body, partially covered from the waist down, with her neck blackened with strangulation marks and her head in a toilet bowl. Condoms recovered from the bathroom were subjected to DNA testing to determine if the semen it contained matched that of Pemberton. Forensic experts from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory determined that one of the three condoms and a condom wrapper recovered from the motel room had Pemberton's fingerprints. The DNA within the condoms also did not match Laude's DNA. The cause of death was reported as "asphyxiation by drowning".
Pemberton was in the Philippines as part of regular military exercises. His ship was docked at Subic Bay Freeport, former home of the Subic Bay Naval Base, at one time one of the largest US Navy bases outside the United States.
Jennifer Laude was born on November 4, 1988. At the time of her death, she was engaged to a German national named Marc Sueselbeck. While having a drink with her friend Barbie Galvino at the Ambyanz Disco in Olongapo City, on October 11, 2014, she met a "white foreigner" and agreed to go with him to a "short time" hotel called the Celzone Lodge. Gelviro went also with her own companion, and the couples went to different rooms. Later that night Laude was found dead.
Arrest and trial
Following the death of Laude, Pemberton was detained by the U.S. Navy, first on his ship and then inside Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines located in Quezon City, Metro Manila.
On December 15, 2014, the Olongapo City Prosecutor's Office of the Philippine Department of Justice found probable cause to charge Pemberton with murder and on that day he was charged with murder in front of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74. The prosecutor decided to pursue murder charges because of the "presence of treachery, cruelty, and abuse of superior strength". Pemberton appealed the prosecutor's decision to the Secretary of Justice but that appeal was denied. On February 23, 2015, Pemberton was brought to court in Olongapo and the court entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf. The pre-trial hearings began February 27, 2015. The murder trial began on March 16. Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the local courts have one year to complete any legal proceedings.
Reporters were banned from the courtroom and relied upon second-hand reports from Laude family lawyers for their news articles.
The Daily Mail in March reported that Laude's relatives said they had been offered 21 million Philippine pesos (US$468,000) if they agreed to lower the charge from murder to homicide. The Daily Mail further quoted the family saying that Julita Cabillan, Laude's mother, rejected the offer and said, "No amount of money could pay for the years I spent raising my child." One of Pemberton's lawyers, Benjamin Tolosa, said the Marine's legal team offered no money, saying "It has been insinuated the demand came from us and that's absolutely false. It's contrary to what happened".
Lawyers for the Laude family said that prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos had taken a statement by Laude's mother that she would not drop the case even if offered a million dollars as a sign that the Laude family was open to a plea bargain, and insisted that the prosecutor had promoted that idea with defense attorneys.
One of the Laude family's attorneys, Harry Roque, told the press that he had been barred by Prosecutor de los Santos from the trial. Laude's family submitted a letter to Department of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima requesting the assignment of a new prosecutor, citing the refusal of de los Santos to work with the family's private lawyers. The prosecution rested on June 30, 2015.
Pemberton admitted in court to fighting with Laude, but not to killing her. He claimed he acted in "self-defense" after he discovered Laude was transgender.
On December 1, 2015, the Olongapo Regional Trial Court found Pemberton guilty of homicide, citing mitigating circumstances including Laude not revealing her gender identity, and sentenced him to 6 to 12 years in jail. The court said, "The killing of Laude amounted only to homicide" and did not meet the standards for murder. Pemberton, in the court's view, acted out of "passion and obfuscation". The court ruled Pemberton that "in the heat of passion, he arm-locked the deceased, and dunked his (her) head in the toilet." Harry Roque, the family's attorney, disagreed, saying "It is not right that these mitigating circumstances showed his bigotry towards a transgender woman and that the bigotry itself was the reason he killed her." Laude's mother, Julita Laude, also was not happy, saying she believed Pemberton was guilty of murder. Still, she added,"But the important thing is he will be jailed. My son's life is not wasted."
Pemberton remained at Camp Aguinaldo and under the Bureau of Corrections control until the appeals were heard. Pemberton was ordered to pay fines to the Laude family totaling over 4.5 million Philippine pesos: 50,000 pesos civil indemnities, 4,320,000 pesos for loss of earning capacity, 155,250 pesos for funeral and burial expenses, 50,000 pesos for moral damages, and 30,000 pesos for exemplary damages.
In a ruling issued by the Olongapo RTC Branch 74 on March 30, 2016, the court affirmed the conviction of Pemberton, while reducing the maximum sentence to 10 years from the original 12 years, also denying him bail.
The case has the potential to damage Philippines–United States relations. There is an existing Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), complemented by the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and by annual military exercises known as Balikatan, all of which are under greater scrutiny. Several protests have been organized in the Philippines and the United States calling for the Philippines to cancel both agreements.
This is the second reported criminal case involving a United States Marine in the Philippines under the existing Visiting Forces Agreement. In 2005, four Marines were tried in the Philippines for rape in what became known as the Subic rape case. Three were acquitted at trial and the fourth was convicted at trial but later acquitted on appeal after victim "Nicole" recanted her testimony and immediately emigrated to the United States.
Transgender rights activists and the left-wing Bagong Alyansang Makabayan have protested what they see as the "special treatment" of U.S. troops, such as Pemberton, in the Philippines, compared to the second-class citizen treatment of Filipinos, such as Laude, in their own land, which they characterize as neo-colonialism. The Communist Party of the Philippines condemned the United States' refusal to turn over full custody of Pemberton to Philippine authorities and called for the abolition of the Visiting Forces Agreement which the party views as lopsided to US military interests and as violative of Philippine sovereignty. The communist group also views that the Philippine government refuses to fully assert full jurisdiction on the case. The Philippines was a colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946.
The case has also prompted a discussion on transgender rights. A columnist for The Philippine Star wrote that the case provides for an "opportunity to further gender sensitivity, promote LGBT rights, and encourage tolerance and acceptance".
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