Guilty of homicide: US Marine gets 6-12 years, sets appeal

(The Philippine Star) - December 1, 2015 - 9:01am

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines – A US Marine charged with murder for the death of a Filipino transgender was found guilty yesterday of the lesser offense of homicide and sentenced to six to 12 years in prison.

Olongapo Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 74 Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde also ordered Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton to pay the family of Laude a total of P4.6 million (about $100,000): P4.325 million for lost earnings, P155,250 for the burial expenses, P50,000 in moral damages, P50,000 as civil indemnity and P30,000 in exemplary damages.

Jabalde said the Laude family’s demand for P100 million in damages was “excessive and outrageous.”

The court threw out Pemberton’s defense that he merely rendered Laude unconscious in a choke hold and that someone else had strangled and drowned Laude in a toilet bowl apparently in a robbery after the US serviceman had left the scene.

Jabalde originally ordered Pemberton’s immediate transfer to the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa pending clarification of a custody arrangement between the Philippine and US governments, but later in the day allowed his continued stay at Camp Aguinaldo. While on trial, Pemberton was detained in an air-conditioned cargo container at the military camp in Quezon City, guarded by US Marines.

As a national prisoner, Pemberton should serve his sentence at the NBP, Jabalde said.

Pemberton, an anti-tank missile operator, was convicted of the lesser charge of homicide as the court found no treachery, abuse of strength or cruelty on the part of the soldier, who was intoxicated at the time of the killing.

The 20-year-old Pemberton was on shore leave when he met Laude on Oct. 11 last year at the Ambyanz bar on Magsaysay Avenue in Olongapo City.

After several drinks, the two left the bar and checked into Celzone Lodge where the 26-year-old Laude was later found dead – with his head in the toilet – after Pemberton had left. Cause of death was determined to be drowning.

The incident sparked outrage, with militants and activists demanding the cancellation of military agreements between the US and the Philippines, especially the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows rotational deployment of US forces in the country.

Pemberton was part of the US forces that participated in joint drills with the Philippine military in Zambales.

The court’s lengthy decision – read for more than three hours by Clerk of Court Gerry Gruspe – included a retelling of Pemberton’s and the witnesses’ testimonies in the trial.

The soldier testified that he had several drinks on the night of the killing. He said Laude and a companion, whom he thought were women, approached him at the bar and offered to have sex with him. After checking into a motel, Laude’s companion – Mark Clarence “Barbie” Gelviro – left, purportedly to buy condoms.

The Marine said he was enraged at discovering Laude was a man. He said this led to a fight that prompted him to choke hold Laude to subdue her.

He claimed Laude was still alive and breathing when he left the motel, and that somebody else might have killed the transgender.

A fellow Marine testified that Pemberton admitted killing a “he-she,” referring to Laude, upon his return to their ship, the USS Peleliu, then docked at the Subic port.

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