OLONGAPO, Philippines — A Philippine court is expected to deliver its verdict Tuesday in the emotion-charged case of a U.S. Marine accused of murdering a transgender Filipino after discovering her gender when they checked into a hotel, officials said.
Philippine police were readying heavy security for the ruling in Olongapo City, northwest of Manila, in the case involving U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton. Left-wing activists said they plan to hold protests in the city, where Pemberton is accused of strangling to death Jennifer Laude after they met in a bar in October last year.
The killing sparked anger in the Philippines and reignited calls by left-wing groups and nationalists for an end to America’s military presence 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.
The murder case also revived a debate over which government should have custody of U.S. military personnel who run afoul of local laws under a Visiting Forces Agreement they signed in 1998.
Lawyers for the victim’s family and Pemberton both predicted victory. Murder is punishable by life in prison while an acquittal is non-appealable.
On Monday, Laude’s two sisters and mother, Julita, lit candles, placed a bouquet of flowers and prayed at her tomb in a small Olongapo cemetery. Julita said she prayed to God to give justice to her daughter.
Pemberton, an anti-tank missile operator from New Bedford, Massachusetts, was one of thousands of American and Philippine military personnel who participated in a joint exercise last year. He and a group of other Marines were on leave after the exercise and met Laude and her friends at a bar in Olongapo, a former liberty city outside Subic Bay freeport, a former U.S. Naval base.
Pemberton and Laude left the bar and checked in at a nearby hotel. About 30 minutes later, Pemberton walked out, leaving the door ajar, according to hotel staff.
Pemberton testified in August that he choked Laude during a fight that erupted when he discovered she was a transgender woman, but insisted she was still alive when he left her in a shower, according to his lawyer, Rowena Garcia Flores.
Police, however, said Laude had apparently been drowned in the toilet.