OLONGAPO CITY: A US Marine charged with murdering a transgender Filipina refused to enter a plea on Monday, prompting the Regional Trial Court here to submit a ‘not guilty’ plea so his trial could go ahead, prosecutors said.
Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton declined to make a plea because he wants a higher court to first hear his appeal for the case to be dismissed, lawyers for the victim told reporters outside the court.
Pemberton was the last person seen with Laude before her death, according to police. He faces life imprisonment if found guilty.
On the night of the death, Pemberton and other Marines just finished the joint training exercises with Filipino troops at a military base in northern Philippines. Pemberton had ventured into a nearby red-light district for some rest and relaxation, and met Laude at a bar, prosecutors alleged.
Virginia Suarez, one of the prosecutors, said the State will present at least 18 witnesses in court, including a friend of Laude who accompanied her and Pemberton to the motel as they checked in.
Among the pieces of evidence to be presented is a preliminary police report and the autopsy findings showing that Laude died due to “asphyxia by drowning.”
“We have enough evidence and witnesses to convict Pemberton of murder,” she said, “He [Pemberton] was the only person with Jennifer the entire time she was in the hotel and the [motel]cashier can attest to that.”
Pemberton’s lawyers had sought to downgrade the murder charge to homicide, saying there was no evidence to show that the killing was premeditated. Pemberton appeared in the court for the arraignment on Monday, but the proceedings were closed to the media.
The state prosecutor and lawyers for Laude’s family relayed to reporters outside the court his decision to not enter a plea.
Under the Visiting Forces Agreement that governs US troops’ conduct in the Philippines, the United States is allowed to retain custody of Pemberton while his case is being heard by the court.