U.S. Marine Gets Up to 12 Years After Killing Transgender Filipino Woman

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PHILIPPINES-US-DIPLOMACY-MILITARY-CRIME
U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton is escorted by Philippines policemen.Photo: TED ALJIBE

A year after the death of Jennifer Laude, a transgender Filipino woman, a U.S. Marine has been convicted for strangling her to death. The Marine, Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, was sentenced to up to 12 years in prison by a Filipino high court.

Pemberton dodged a more serious murder conviction, which would have come with a sentence of 40 years.

During the case, lawyers for Pemberton argued that he didn’t kill Laude, while admitting that he did strangle her to the point of unconsciousness. The prosecution alleged that the motivation for the assault stemmed from Laude — who witnesses claim was a sex worker — being a transgender woman, a fact Pemberton was unaware of until the two began to engage in sexual activity. The discovery of male genitalia on Laude, prosecutors allege, sent Pemberton into a rage. “He said they began fighting when he discovered that she had a penis,” said Emilie Fe Delos Santos, lead prosecutor in the case. 

After placing Laude in a headlock, Pemberton allegedly dunked her head in the toilet bowl. “If what he did isn’t cruelty, I don’t know what is,” said attorney Harry Roque, who represents the Laude family. Pemberton’s lawyer, Rowena L. Garcia-Flores, offered the defense’s framing of the incident in an email to the New York Times back in August. “Pemberton did not kill Laude. He left Laude in the toilet alive.” 

The sentence Pemberton will now serve has left Laude’s family with a bittersweet taste of justice, despite awarding $98,000 in damages to the victim’s family. The punishment, says Roque, is “very light given the heinousness of the crime.”

Pemberton will serve out his sentence in the Philippines, a contentious subplot of the charged case, which has stoked anti-American sentiment on the group of islands. The Visiting Forces Agreement signed by the two nations stipulates that the Philippines has the right to try and imprison U.S. military personnel convicted of crimes on the island, but in the time between crime and sentence, U.S. military retains custody. Immediately following the trial, it’s unclear where specifically Pemberton will serve his time. The prosecution is pushing to house the Marine in Manila’s crumbling national penitentiary, a move the defense intends to resist.