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Trial begins in Philippines of U.S. Marine charged with trans woman’s murder

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Government prosecutors presented their first witness, hotel worker Elias Gallamos, who identified Pemberton as the man who was with Laude shortly before she was found dead, according to Ethel Avisado, a lawyer for Laude’s family.

The case has reignited a debate over custody of American military personnel accused of crimes in the Philippines. The dispute was eased after Washington agreed to move Pemberton from a U.S. warship to the Philippine military’s main camp in metropolitan Manila, where he is held under American custody but with an outer ring of Filipino guards.

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Weeks before the trial, there was talk that the two sides were quietly discussing a possible plea-bargain agreement in which Pemberton would reportedly plead guilty to a lower charge in exchange for money for the Laude family. Both sides on Monday denied initiating the talks.

Laude’s mother, Julita, told reporters she would not drop the case against Pemberton even if she was offered a million dollars.

“What they did to my child was gruesome,” she said. “Just because we are poor doesn’t mean we can’t fight for justice.”

The case occurred at a time when the Philippines and the United States have strengthened their military ties with the recent signing of a defense accord that allows greater U.S. access to Philippine military camps. The accord will help Washington’s bid to reassert its presence in Asia, and enable Manila to deter what it calls aggressive moves by China to press claims to disputed South China Sea territories.

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