Prosecutors on Monday filed murder charges against a US Marine accused of killing a Filipino transgender woman, in a case that has fanned anti-American sentiment.
Prosecutors found “probable cause” against Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton and decided that he used “treachery, abuse of superior authority and cruelty” against his alleged victim, lead prosecutor Emilie Fe delos Santos said in a briefing.
“You can see the kind of cruelty she [victim]endured, the injuries she sustained,” she said. “We believe we have a strong case.”
Pemberton will not be allowed to post bail. Murder is punishable by up to 40 years in jail.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it is expecting “full cooperation” from the US.
“In accordance with the VFA [Visiting Forces Agreement], we look forward to the full cooperation of the US [government]in ensuring that justice is secured for Jeffrey ‘Jennifer’ Laude,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.
He added that the prosecutors’ investigation was done “with all deliberate speed.”
“We now await the decision of the court on the issue of probable cause [and]for the next steps to proceed,” the DFA spokesman said.
Jennifer Laude, a 26, was found dead on October 12 in a cheap hotel in the port city of Olongapo in Zambales province, north of Manila. She was half-naked in a bathroom with marks of strangulation on her neck, according to police.
Laude died from “asphyxia by drowning,” according to a police autopsy.
“This is not an ordinary murder. This is heinous because she was beaten up,” Laude family lawyer Harry Roque told reporters.
Pemberton, who had just finished taking part in US-Philippine military exercises near Olongapo, had checked into the hotel with Laude and was the last person seen with her, police said
Pemberton, 19, had asked prosecutors to downgrade the murder charge to homicide, which carries a maximum 20-year prison term.
Under the Visiting Forces Agreement signed between the US and the Philippines in 1998, Filipino courts have jurisdiction over cases involving American soldiers accused of crimes.
But the agreement also allows suspects to remain in US custody.
After the formal charges were filed by the prosecutors, the local court that has jurisdiction over the case will decide whether there are enough grounds for the accused to stand trial.
The case is the second major test for the VFA.