Joseph Scott Pemberton, a Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marines, has been pardoned in the murder of a transgender woman by Rodrigo Duterte, the leader of the Philippines. Duterte bizarrely believes this pardon will guarantee the country access to future coronavirus vaccines.
Pemberton was convicted in 2015 of murdering Jennifer Laude, a woman he met at a bar while on leave from service when he was stationed near Olongapo, Philippines. The court believed he paid Laude for sex and then caused her death by strangling and drowning her in a toilet when he realized she was trans on October 11, 2014.
His sentence initially called for him to serve up to 12 years, and he was expected to serve 10 years – but he will be released having served less than six, including credit for time served before conviction. Reports indicate that he was likely to be released on good behavior, but Laude’s family petitioned the legal system to keep him imprisoned.
Duterte’s pardon renders their concerns moot.
“The president has erased the remaining punishment against Pemberton… he can now go home because of the pardon,” announced Harry Roque, a spokesman for Duterte. Roque used to be the Laude family’s attorney after Jennifer’s murder.
At the time of Pemberton’s conviction, Roque stated, “If what he did isn’t cruelty, I don’t know what is.”
It’s unknown what factors led to Duterte’s decision, but the Philippine Star reports that Roque believed that this pardon would give the country access to COVID-19 vaccines from American drug makers.
“Even if I lawyered for the Laude family, if that means all Filipinos will have access to the vaccine that Americans will develop, I have no problem with that,” he stated.
The current Laude family attorney, Virginia Suarez, said, “This is another injustice, not only to Jennifer Laude and family but a grave injustice to the Philippine people.”
Duterte, who is often compared to his ally Donald Trump in the media, has found himself consistently on the opposite side of pro-LGBTQ issues, despite claiming to be a supporter of the community. The BBC writes that he is a “controversial strongman”, and he is known for calling for anti-trans violence and making rape and anti-LGBTQ jokes. He has used the phrase “gay son of a whore” to derogatorily refer to people such as American ambassadors, President Barack Obama, and the Pope.
A united front of over 30 LGBTQ organizations in the Philippines called this an act of a “murderer pardon[ing] another murderer”.
“President Duterte’s pardon of Pemberton sends out a loud and clear message that a Filipino trans woman’s life does not matter, that it is open season for discrimination and violence against transgender people, and that American soldiers will continue to get away with murder Philippine soil,” the organizations wrote in a statement.
“We urge the entire LGBTQI community and our allies to unite in our opposition against Duterte’s anti-transgender, anti-LGBTQI, anti-women, and anti-people policies,” they concluded.
Because he was a member of the U.S. military, Pemberton remained in U.S. custody and served all of his jail time in an American-operated prison facility in the Philippines. It is not immediately clear exactly when Pemberton will be released and when he will be able to return to the U.S.