OLONGAPO, Philippines — A Philippine court on Tuesday convicted a U.S. Marine of killing a Filipino last year after he discovered she was a transgender woman in a hotel while he was on a break after participating in joint military exercises in the country.
Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton was convicted of homicide by first strangling Jennifer Laude and then dunking her head into a toilet bowl in the hotel they had checked into after meeting in a disco bar in October 2014 in Olongapo, a city northwest of Manila. He was sentenced to 6-12 years in jail and credited with time already spent in detention, said court clerk Gerry Gruspe.
The court also ordered Pemberton, who has been detained at a Philippine military camp for about a year, to pay Laude’s family 4.6 million pesos ($98,000) in damages.
Laude’s mother, Julita, said that while she was happy the verdict detailed everything that had transpired, she was not pleased with the length of the jail term because she had hoped Pemberton would be convicted of murder, a more serious crime than homicide.
“But the important thing is he will be jailed,” she said, crying. “My son’s life is not wasted.”
The Laude family’s private lawyer, Harry Roque, said that “this is a bittersweet victory because it is not murder,” adding that “if what he did isn’t cruelty, I don’t know what is.”
Witnesses had testified that Pemberton squeezed Laude’s neck, dragged her to the toilet and dunked her head into the bowl. Two of Pemberton’s U.S. Marine colleagues testified that Pemberton told them, “I think I killed a he/she.”
The judge said she downgraded the murder charge to homicide because conditions such as cruelty and treachery had not been proven.
The killing sparked anger in the Philippines and reignited calls by left-wing groups and nationalists for an end to America’s military presence in the country at a time when the U.S. is reasserting its dominance in Asia and Manila has turned to Washington for support amid an escalating territorial dispute with China.
Half a block from the court, dozens of left-wing protesters rejoiced after the verdict was announced by burning an effigy of Uncle Sam and yelling “Justice for Jennifer!” Police officers, fire trucks and iron railings were used to prevent them from getting closer to the courthouse.