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Philippine appeals court blocks early release of US Marine convicted in brutal killing of transgender woman

Judge's gavel. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau/U.S. Air Force)

An appeals court in the Philippines has blocked the release of a U.S. Marine convicted in the brutal killing of Jennifer Laude in 2014.

This week a local court ordered the early release of Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was convicted of homicide in 2015 and sentenced to six to 10 years behind bars.

On Tuesday the Regional Trial Court in Olongapo city, northwest of Manila, ordered him to be released early for good behavior.

The news outraged Laude’s family, LGBTQ activists, as well as many Filipinos, who see the early release as a special treatment bestowed upon Americans.

Pemberton was serving his sentence at a special facility military camp — and not at an ordinary jail — in line with the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S., which allows American troops to operate in the region.

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“Laude’s death personifies the death of Philippine sovereignty and the light penalty imposed on Pemberton proves that despite the President’s independent foreign policy, that Americans continue to have the status of conquering colonials in our country,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement Wednesday.

“Our compatriot cannot be treated like an animal then the punishment will just be a tap on the wrist,” he said in a press conference the following day, according to The Associated Press.

On Friday, Philippine newspaper Philstar reported that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that state prosecutors plan on filing their own motion for reconsideration on the early release.

Pemberton, an anti-tank missile operator from New Bedford, Mass., was in the Philippines taking part in joint military exercises in 2014. He was 19 at the time.

Authorities said that he met Laude, a 26-year-old transgender woman, at a nightclub in Olongapo city, northwest of Manila, on Oct. 11, 2014.

They agreed to go to a motel across the street, where Laude was later found dead. She was mostly naked, wrapped in a bedsheet, and her head was submerged in the toilet bowl.

An official report released a few days later by the Philippine National Police and the Regional Crime Laboratory Office confirmed that she had died due to “asphyxia by drowning.”

LAGABLAG, a network of groups that advocate for LGBTQ rights in the Philippines, called Pemberton’s early release “another injustice to the memory of Jennifer, her family, and the country.”

“[He] has served only six years of his 10 year sentence. Our sister, Jennifer Laude, suffered a most violent and gruesome death under the hands of Pemberton.”

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