OLONGAPO Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge Roline Ginez Jabalde on Tuesday rejected the appeal of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton for the reversal of his December 1, 2015 conviction, but reduced his sentence to 10 years.
The decision, dated March 29, 2016 affirmed Pemberton’s conviction for homicide over the death of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude. It also denied his appeal for bail.
The court pointed out that since Pemberton has already been convicted, he can no longer be presumed innocent, and this removes his right to bail.
The US Marine was earlier meted a jail term from six years to 12 years, but this was cut to a minimum of six years to maximum of 10 years.
However, private lawyers for the Laude family said they are not pleased with the lighter penalty, and called for a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that governs the presence of US soldiers in the country.
Olongapo City Prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos, head of the prosecution panel, was in Cebu attending a seminar and could not be contacted for comment. Private prosecutors hailed the court’s affirmation of the conviction, but were not pleased with the lighter penalty imposed.
“It’s a bitter sweet victory for the Laudes and the Filipino people,” says Atty. Virgie Suarez, one of the private lawyers for the Laude family, said in a text message.
“There is nothing clearer than the court’s findings of fact that Pemberton killed Jennifer Laude,” Suarez said.
However, she said the decision does not deliver complete justice because a “foreigner-soldier-killer” continues to enjoy the privilege of serving his sentence in a “jail” where only the US has control.
“This is a mockery of our justice and legal system and an attack to our sovereignty,” Suarez added.
Another private lawyer for the victim, Harry Roque, said “We are happy that Pemberton’s motion for reconsideration was not fully granted and we are happy that the decision remains – that Pemberton is guilty of killing Laude.”
Roque said they are happy Pemberton was denied bail but are not pleased with the lighter penalty imposed.
“We hope this will inspire a review of the VFA,” he said.
“We stress that the lighter penalty of six to 10 years imprisonment still disqualifies Pemberton from seeking early release through a parole,” Roque added.
This means Pemberton will continue to be in jail.
The court cited in its ruling that the prosecutors presented enough evidence to show no other person could have killed Laude except Pemberton.
The court gave much weight to eyewitness testimony that Pemberton was the last person seen with Laude before she was found dead in the toilet of the Celzone Lodge motel on Oct. 11, 2014.
Government prosecutors earlier charged the 21-year-old US Marine with murder for the death of Laude.
In the motion for reconsideration filed by Pemberton’s lawyers, they also asked the court to clarify his sentence, saying that the maximum sentence should only be 10 years, considering the mitigating circumstances in their client’s case.
Efforts to get reactions from the defense lawyers, particularly Atty. Rowena Santos, proved futile as of this writing.