Marine corporal to remain under US custody
OLONGAPO CITY, Zambales: A Regional Trial Court (RTC) here found American Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton guilty of homicide and sentenced him to six years to 12 years in jail for the killing of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude.
But although Judge Roline Ginez Jabalde committed Pemberton to the New Bilibid Prisons–the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila)–the US soldier was brought instead to Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Tuesday night where he has been detained since a murder complaint was filed against him.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) said despite the court’s guilty verdict, the soldier will remain under US custody as provided for under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The DOJ added that personnel of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) were sent to Camp Aguinaldo–general headquarters of the Armed Force s of the Philippines–to receive Pemberton in compliance with the order of Olongapo City RTC Branch 74.
“Following promulgation of the Olongapo trial court’s judgment of conviction, Pemberton was transported under heavy guard by personnel of the Philippine National Police [PNP] to Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City,” the DOJ said in a statement.
“He shall be received by personnel of [BuCor] and immediately detained there until his appeal is decided with finality by our courts,” it added.
The Justice department hinted at the possibility of Pemberton being transferred to another facility at some point as provided under the VFA.
“In any case, his detention shall at all times be carried out within Philippine territory, under the guard by and in line with existing regulations of the BuCor,” it pointed out.
The department cited as basis for this arrangement the February 11, 2009 ruling of the Supreme Court on the case of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who was also convicted for the 2005 rape of Suzette Nicolas alias Nicole in Subic, also in Zambales.
Although the High Court ruled that Smith be placed under the custody of Philippine authorities, it allowed the US soldier to stay at the US Embassy in Manila while Philippine and US officials were negotiating on “the proper agreement on detention facilities under Philippine authorities.”
Smith was later allowed to leave the Philippines when his accuser changed her story and said that she was not sure if she was raped.
Last month, the Supreme Court denied a petition of the Laude family that
Pemberton be moved to a regular jail.
In his decision, Jabalde ordered Pemberton to pay the Laude family P4.2 million in damages.
Laude was found dead in a resort hotel.
Court records said Pemberton and his companions were drunk when Laude offered them sex for a fee.
In his testimony when he took the witness stand in August this year, Pemberton admitted strangling Laude when he found out that the latter was a man.
The court said the transgender died of asphyxia caused by drowning.
It convicted Pemberton for homicide because the prosecution failed to establish that there were aggravating circumstances of treachery and abuse of superior strength to warrant the soldier’s conviction for murder.
The court said Pemberton acted out of “passion and obfuscation” and “in the heat of passion, he arm-locked the deceased, and dunked his (her) head in the toilet”.
“The killing of Laude amounted only to homicide” and did not have the legal elements of murder, the court ruled.
A lawyer for the Laude family, Harry Roque, expressed outrage that the sentence was reduced on those grounds.
“We are very angry that the court considered these mitigating circumstances,” he said.
Julita Laude, mother of the victim, said she was thankful for the conviction but added: “I am not content with the six-12 year imprisonment.”
“The important thing is he will be jailed. My daughter did not die in vain,” she added.
Lawyers said a black-suited Pemberton showed no reaction when the verdict was read.
Burly American guards shielded him from cameras as they escorted Pemberton to an upper floor, away from journalists.
The judge ruled that the American would be held temporarily at the national penitentiary until the two countries decide where he should serve his sentence.
Police barricaded the narrow street in front of the court, keeping out protesters who wanted to picket the event.
Pemberton’s homicide conviction is the first under the VFA agreement between the Philippines and the United States. The agreement, signed in 1998, covers the legal liability of US troops taking part in military operations in the Philippines.
Leftist activists have used the Pemberton case to attack the VFA and the close defense ties between the United States and its former colony.
The protesters have been demanding that the American should not receive any special treatment and should be held in an ordinary jail.
“We want to see him behind bars. We want justice for our countryman,” rally organizer Eric Robeso said.