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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 19, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 51
Marine accused of murder in the Philippines will remain in U.S. custody
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Marine accused of murder in the Philippines will remain in U.S. custody

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Manila said the United States will maintain custody of U.S. Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton under provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a document that sets rules and rights for U.S. military presence in the Philippines.

'The VFA states that the United States has the right to retain custody of a suspect from the commission of the alleged offense until completion of all judicial proceedings. Pemberton is being held at a Philippines military base, Camp Aguinaldo, under guard of U.S. military personnel, with perimeter security provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines,' the embassy said in a statement.

Pemberton, an anti-tank missile man with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, has been in U.S. military custody since October following the slaying of Jennifer Laude, a Transgender woman in an Olongapo city hotel room.

On Monday, Philippine prosecutors charged Pemberton with murder.

Prosecutor Emilie de los Santos said there was 'probable cause' that Pemberton killed Laude in the hotel room where the victim's body was found in Olongapo city. She had been strangled and drowned in a toilet bowl.

'Its murder,' de los Santos told reporters after filing the charge against the 19-year-old Pemberton before a regional court. 'It was aggravated by treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty.'

Among the evidence submitted by de los Santos and other prosecutors were statements by Pemberton's three Marine colleagues who went bar-hopping with him on October 11 in Olongapo, a former liberty town when the U.S. Navy was at the vast Subic Naval base, now a bustling commercial Freeport and recreation hub.

According to the Associated Press, Pemberton and some of his colleagues picked up women at a bar and separately checked in at nearby hotels, and then returned to their ship after midnight.

According to reports, witnesses saw Pemberton check in with Laude, where he was seen leaving shortly before the discovery of the killing.

Marine Lance Corporal Jairn Michael Rose, who went out with Pemberton that night, acknowledged that the suspect later confided back at their ship that he attacked the woman he was with by choking her after discovering that she was Transgender when she undressed, according to the prosecutors.

'I think I killed a he/she,' Pemberton was quoted as having told Rose.

Pemberton allegedly said he choked her from behind with his arm 'for a couple of minutes' until she stopped moving then dragged her into the bathroom, according to the prosecutors.

The new details have sparked condemnation from LGBT groups, which have labeled the attack a hate crime.

The case comes after the Philippines and the United States strengthened ties with the recent signing of a defense accord that allows greater U.S. access to Philippine military camps. According to the AP, the accord will help Washington's bid to reassert its presence in Asia, and enable Manila to deter what it calls China's aggressive moves to reinforce its claims in disputed South China Sea territories.

The case also reignited a debate over custody of American military personnel accused of crimes. But the looming irritant between the treaty allies over Pemberton's custody was eased after Washington agreed to move him from a U.S. warship to the Philippine military's main camp in metropolitan Manila, where he remained under American custody with an outer ring of Filipino guards.

The Philippine government said in a statement issued by its foreign affairs department that it looks 'forward to the full cooperation of the U.S. government in ensuring that justice is secured for Laude.'

Harry Roque, the lawyer of Laude's family, welcomed the prosecutors' ruling and angrily demanded that Pemberton be thrown into an ordinary jail.

The embassy said U.S. officials will cooperate with the Philippine government in the case.

'The United States will continue to work closely with the Philippine government to help ensure justice is served and the rights of all persons are protected. This includes making the suspect available for all appearances required by the Philippine judicial system,' the embassy's statement said.

The embassy has a history of keeping custody of American military personnel accused of crimes in the Philippines. In 2005, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith was found guilty of raping a woman and was kept at the embassy until his conviction was overturned by appeal even though a judge ordered him released to local authorities.

That case, like this one, sparked local criticism of the VFA.

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