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Court affirms homicide conviction of US soldier

THE Court of Appeals on Monday upheld the conviction of US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton for killing a transgender Filipina in a case that reignited long-simmering anti-American sentiment in the Philippines.

Pemberton was found guilty of homicide in 2015 for the killing of Jennifer Laude in a Subic motel a year earlier, prompting his lawyers to file an appeal. 

But the Court of Appeals rejected the appeal on Monday, saying Pemberton’s argument that he acted out of self-defense when Laude slapped him was “more imaginary than real” and “easily concocted.” 

US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton

“The only reason why he attacked Laude was that he was furious at him for pretending to be a woman, nothing more, nothing less,” the court said.

Pemberton met Laude in October 2014 in a bar in Olongapo City after the marine took part in a joint US-Philippine military exercise.

During the trial, a lower court heard that Pemberton and Laude agreed to have sex after meeting in the city’s red light district, but that the drunken marine turned violent when he discovered Laude still had male genitals.

He was sentenced to six to 10 years in jail and is being held in a cell in the country’s military headquarters in Manila.

Pemberton’s homicide conviction was the first under a Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines signed in 1998, covering the legal liability of American troops taking part in military operations in the Southeast Asian nation.

The case had strained relations between the Philippines and its former colonial ruler and main defense partner, with activists and LGBT rights groups urging Manila to scrap the military deal with Washington. 

The American’s lawyer Rowena Garcia-Flores said that Pemberton’s camp would elevate the case to the Supreme Court. 

“The [lower] courts set aside all evidence that shows that another person could have killed Laude. Laude’s money was stolen by a third person and there was a necklace that belonged to a third person,” she said. 

During the trial of the case, Pemberton claimed that he was molested by Laude inside the lodge by pretending to be a woman and which prompted him to defend his dignity and self-respect.

The American soldier also claimed that Laude slapped him when he confronted the former for pretending to be a woman.

However, the Court of Appeals noted that there was no physical evidence that would suggest that Pemberton was first slapped by Laude or that he was in grave danger that prompted him to defend himself.

The appellate court also junked the assertion of Pemberton that his voluntary surrender should have been appreciated in his favor as mitigating circumstance considering that he was detained in Camp Aguinaldo as early as December 2014 or before his warrant of arrest was issued on Dec. 16, 2014 and that there was no intention on his part to commit such a crime.

But the CA said the case was filed against Pemberton on Dec. 15, 2014 or four days before Pemberton presented himself to the trial court.

It said physical evidence also contradicts Pemberton’s claim that he had no intention to commit so grave wrong.

“As proven by the prosecution, Pemberton did not leave Laude merely unconscious, but ensured his death by submerging his head inside the toilet bowl. Clearly, Pemberton intended the natural consequence of his wrongful act,” the CA said.

The appellate court also upheld the award of loss of earning capacity to the heirs of Laude in the amount of P4.32 million as well as exemplary damages of P30,000.

It also increased the civil indemnity and moral damages awarded to Laude’s heirs from P50,000 to P75,000 based on recent jurisprudence.

With respect to actual damages, the CA said the heirs of Laude were able to prove through actual receipts the P155,250 worth of damages representing autopsy, wake and burial expenses.

The court said the damages would bear an interest rate of 6 percent per annum from the date of finality of judgment until it is fully paid.

The CA also agreed with the regional trial court that Pemberton’s time under detention in Camp Aquinaldo should be credited as time served.

“Consequently, the argument that Pemberton was not under local custody during the trial has no leg to stand on. Further, Pemberton is entitled to be credited with the full time of his preventive imprisonment…,” the CA ruled.

 Associate Justices Ramon Cruz and Henri Jean Paul Inting concurred with the ruling.

Two lawmakers on Monday welcomed the Court of Appeals decision.

Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, a House deputy minority leader, said he was happy with the decision.

“The Court of Appeals’ affirmation of the guilty verdict of Pemberton is a welcome development. The fact that a member of the US Marines was found guilty for breach of our criminal laws for the very first time is an affirmation of Philippine sovereignty,” Roque said.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas demanded Pemberton’s immediate transfer to the national penitentiary and the full implementation of penalties in accordance with Philippine laws and judicial processes.

Brosas also denounced what she called a “special treatment” to Pemberton, an American serviceman who is currently detained in a restricted facility at the Armed Forces headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

“The special treatment accorded to Pemberton since his conviction shows the disparity and injustice that agreements like the Visiting Forces Agreement [VFA] and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement [EDCA] bestows upon the Filipino people,” Brosas said. 

“These agreements should immediately be revoked to pave the way towards an independent foreign policy espoused no less by the President himself,” she said. With Maricel V. Cruz and AFP

Topics: Court of Appeals , US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton , transgender Filipina killing , Jennifer Laude
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