Yearender: Laude case, Nieves slay mark 2015

Ric Sapnu, (The Philippine Star) - December 27, 2015 - 9:00am

CAMP OLIVAS, Pampanga, Philippines – Apart from the regular typhoons and floods, a murder trial and the assassination of a judge dominated the news in Central Luzon in 2015.

More than a year into the struggle for justice, relatives and friends heaved a sigh of relief after the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court (RTC) found US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton guilty for the killing of transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.

The court convicted Pemberton for homicide and ordered him to pay P50,000 in moral damages.

“All circumstances form a chain that leads to reasonable conclusion that Pemberton is responsible for the killing of Laude,” ruled Judge Roline Jinez Jabalde of RTC Branch 74.

The 68-page decision was read for almost three hours on national television.

In her decision, Jabalde said Pemberton’s own admission to interacting with Laude and being at the crime scene itself could be admitted as evidence to the 2014 killing.

Laude was found dead on Oct. 11, 2014 in the bathroom of a Celzone Lodge room in Olongapo City. He was last seen with Pemberton entering the room with another person after drinking at a nearby bar where they met.

The other person later turned out to be Laude’s friend, Mark Clarence “Barbie” Gelviro, who testified that he left the two alone in the room.

During the trial, Pemberton admitted choking and dragging Laude, who offered him sex for a fee, to the bathroom during a fight. He claimed that the victim was still breathing when he left the room.

He said he did not know at first that Laude was not biologically female but later admitted to his superiors and colleagues that he may have killed a “he-she.”

Under the Visiting Forces Agreement of the Philippines and the US, the local courts have one year to complete judicial proceedings against an American soldier accused of a crime in the Philippines. After that period, the soldier will be relieved of any obligation.

Pemberton was detained first on the US Navy ship, where he was assigned as a participant in regular US-Philippine military exercises, and later moved to a US facility in Camp Aguinaldo.

Judge’s ambush

The fatal ambush of Judge Wilfredo Nieves of the Malolos City RTC shook the judiciary as many opined that it sent a chilling message to those who work for justice.

Nieves was driving along MacArthur Highway in Barangay Ticay, Malolos City when the unidentified gunmen opened fire, hitting him in the forehead, neck and body. He died at the scene.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) formed a special investigation task group and provided security escorts to the judge’s immediate family members and close relatives.

Friends and relatives also raised P2 million as a reward to anyone who could provide information on the identities of the gunmen and solve the case.

Investigators looked into the sensitive cases handled by the judge and found that he sentenced Raymond Dominguez, a known carjacker, to 30 years in prison.

Dominguez, who heads a group of car thieves operating in Metro Manila and Central Luzon, was promptly charged as a mastermind in the judge’s killing. He is facing a string of carjacking charges and is detained in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa.

Another suspect, Arnel Janoras, was killed by the police after reportedly grappling for the gun of one of policemen who arrested him days after the Nov. 11 attack on Nieves, who presided over the Malolos RTC Branch 84.

Before his death, he executed an extrajudicial confession naming Jay Joson as his accomplice and Dominguez as the mastermind. He also claimed receiving P20,000 of the P100,000 given to them to kill Nieves.

A third suspect, still unidentified, remains at large.

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